When Tammy Baldwin was re-elected last year to her fifth term in Congress, progressives had high hopes. Democrats now had control of both houses of Congress. And Baldwin, an ally of new Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), was appointed to the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, while retaining her seat on the House Judiciary Committee.
Suddenly, much seemed possible - impeachment, health-care reform, even an end to the war in Iraq.
But over the past year, none of it has happened.
"Everyone expected we would be able to put the brakes on the war," says Carol Deshich, state coordinator for the Progressive Democrats of America. "There's been a lot of disappointment."
Baldwin herself is frustrated that Congress has not done more. But she notes that Democrats have only a tenuous hold on the majority - they don't have the 60 votes needed in the Senate to push through major legislation. And they don't have enough votes in either house to override presidential vetoes.
"We need a new president," says Baldwin. "We need more than 51 Democrats in the Senate."
But while liberals applaud Baldwin for voting right on the issues, some say that's only part of the job. They want Baldwin to be more of a leader, especially on controversial issues like impeachment.
"Her biggest weakness is she's not bold enough," says Russell Wallace, a member of the Dane County Democrats. "She's not willing to stick her neck out for things that are important."
And some wonder if Baldwin is holding back because she's eyeing a run for the U.S. Senate. "Tammy's looking at that, so she's moving to the center," says Deshich. "She knows she's safe, and so she can do it."
If so, says Deshich, Baldwin might someday face a challenge from the left: "I get the feeling that people are restless with Tammy. She shouldn't take them for granted."
Baldwin denies losing her progressive edge, noting that she's among the handful of House members to back a resolution calling for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. "I don't think that puts me in the center of my party," she says. "I feel on numerous occasions I've been public about the wrongs committed by this administration."
But Baldwin doesn't deny that she may run for Senate. "I think it would be foolish to rule anything out."
Critics say Baldwin often needs to be pushed to take action on issues. She signed on to the impeachment resolution in August - four months after it was introduced.
"Tammy Baldwin had to be lobbied very heavily to sign on to the bill," says Buzz Davis, chair of the Wisconsin Impeachment Coalition. "The ship of our state is sinking and she is one of the captains. She should be demanding action."
Baldwin says she waited to back the impeachment resolution in hopes that Congress would address some of the underlying problems, by passing legislation to restore habeas corpus, close Guantanamo Bay and renounce torture.
"I wanted to give the process a try," explains Baldwin, who last week upped the ante by calling on the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the impeachment issue. "It became clear to me midway through the session that it was unlikely to happen."
She adds that the House has already taken action on several bills seeking an end to the war. Democrats recently pushed through a funding bill to end troop deployment to Iraq by December 2008. But the Senate wouldn't pass it.
"That's the biggest disappointment," she says. "The House has been delivering on the expectations after the last election. But that's not enough to make something into law."
Some have wondered if Baldwin has gotten pressure from Pelosi to stay mum on impeachment. Davis notes that the speaker, who does not favor impeaching Bush or Cheney, decides committee assignments and which bills come up for votes. "Nothing that Baldwin ever wants will make it to the floor if she advocates for impeachment," he says.
Baldwin says House Democrats rarely discuss impeachment when they convene, and denies that Pelosi is pressuring her. "She's made her own position clear," says Baldwin, "but she's never discouraged anyone from taking action, including me."
Baldwin's signature issue has always been reforming the nation's health-care system. But her innovative proposal - to let states experiment with health-care programs using federal funds - has been stalled in her own committee, Energy and Commerce, for nearly a year.
Baldwin says Democrats have been champing at the bit for years to reform health care and are now advancing numerous proposals.
"There are a lot of initiatives that have been around longer that get top priority," she says. "Ours is a fairly new piece of legislation."
Wayne Bigelow, chair of the Dane County Democrats, praises Baldwin's efforts. "She's worked hard on issues related to health care," he says. "One problem with Congress is that it's based on seniority. It's still tough to move up the pecking order."
And Baldwin has gotten some health-care legislation passed in the past year. She sponsored a bill that increases funding for breast and cervical cancer screening programs. "It's a billion-dollar program," she says.
Congress also tried to expand states' health insurance programs for children (known as BadgerCare in Wisconsin), but President Bush vetoed the bill.
Next year, Baldwin hopes to get the Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearings on her own health-care reform proposal. "I have not in any way abandoned an interest in seeing universal health care," she says.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress have worked on a number of other issues, including passing stricter lobbying and ethics laws, expanding college aid, raising the minimum wage and prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation. And earlier this month, the House passed a comprehensive energy bill that Baldwin says is "going to result in incredible energy savings in this country."
The bill raises fuel-efficiency standards to 35 mph by 2020 and for the first time requires that 15% of the nation's electricity come from renewable sources. Baldwin herself inserted multiple provisions in the bill, including one that requires appliance manufacturers to include how much electricity appliances use while on "stand-by" mode in their energy ratings.
"I know the war overshadows everything," says Baldwin, "but these are pretty impressive accomplishments."