They sought to hold the Bush administration's feet to the fire for its lack of transparency. The Judiciary Committees and the House Oversight Committee repeatedly dogged the Bush administration, wrangling over subpoenas for both documents and people (including Karl Rove).
The Judiciary Committees grilled Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, over the unexplained firings of U.S. attorneys. After the public show of hours-long hearings, Democrats won a public consensus that Gonzales had politicized the Department of Justice, and he resigned.
Times were rolling high with Democrats in charge, and then the presidential election year hit, and everything slowed down.
In 2008, Democratic congressmen and women were thought of as less than people who made laws than they were as Superdelegates, the new word that was magically going to determine who the Democrats nominated for president, as every new member--just having been there for two years, a few of them--got to vote at the Democratic convention and were courted and tallied by the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns.
Republicans, meanwhile, raged on the House floor. In August of 2008, Republicans stayed in the House chamber as everyone else was gone for August recess, holding press conferences in the dark and tweeting about it and recording videos. Drill Here, Drill Now! they cried, pointing to expensive gas prices. John McCain, who had worked on a cap-and-trade bill with Joe Lieberman and stumped for cap-and-trade in May, was on the trail pushing for the GOP's "all-of-the-above" energy plan; Sarah Palin was saying Drill, Baby, Drill!
When the financial system collapsed, Democrats coalesced around the bailout plan proposed by President Bush's Treasury Department. Hank Paulson reportedly got down on one knee to woo Nancy Pelosi to vote for it, and she assented, as did her caucus and the Senate Democrats, too--weeks after Congress had bailout out AIG. The $700 billion financial bailout was born. As of mid-October 2010, $388 billion had been spent and $204 billion had been repaid.
Then came the election and President Obama. Congress passed a $787 billion stimulus, which included $288 billion in tax credits; $275 billion in contracts, grants, and loans; and $224 billion in entitlement spending. $561 billion has been spent as of today, according to Recovery.gov.
Democrats instituted credit card reforms, seeking to do away with fine-print they had deemed predatory. Democrats outlawed retroactive rate increases, rate increases during the first year, 45 days notice before rate increases with a chance for cardholders to opt out, no fees on interest-only balances, no fees for paying over the phone, contracts posted online, one free credit report per year in a language other than English. Democrats gave credit card companies nine months to comply; they, in turn, jacked up rates before the reforms kicked in. Democrats tried to move up the start-date two months to December 1, but Senate Republicans opposed that.