Monday, November 8, 2010

Gridlock to grip America again?

So the mid-terms are over.

If you believe most of the mainstream media, Barack Obama has been rejected by the people and the new Republican majority in the House has a mandate from the Tea Party to roll back spending and repeal health care reform.

It's both more complicated and simpler than that.

Is Obama doomed to be a one-term president? Well, his approval numbers at this point in his administration are higher than those of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. Both of those guys managed to overcome big defeats in their first mid-term elections to win second terms by a comfortable majority.

And, in exit polls, voters Tuesday split evenly on whether health care reform should be repealed or not. In any case, Republicans don't have the votes to repeal it in the Senate or override Obama's veto if they did. They could shut down the government to leverage him, but that didn't work too well when another group of Republicans tried it against Clinton.

The simple fact is that Tuesday's results weren't about  health care reform or the deficit or foreign policy or Don't Ask, Don't Tell or even about taxes.

They were about the economy.

The unemployment rate was 9.6% on Election Day. If it had been 6%, Tuesday would not have happened. And it wouldn't have mattered what the Tea Party or mainsteam Republicans or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck had to say about it.

If the unemployment rate is over 9% on Election Day 2012, Barack Obama will lose -- unless the GOP does something truly suicidal like nominating Sarah Palin.  If the economy has improved, as it seems to be doing, he won't.

And that brings us to what the next two years will look like.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the number one goal of the Republicans in Congress for the next two years was to make sure that Barack Obama was a one-term president.

That suggests there's no difference between the goals of the Republican Party and those of Republicans elected to serve in Congress. Funny, I thought U.S. Senators and Representatives were elected to serve the interests of their constituents and their states, not those of their political party. Hmmm, maybe that's why George Washington warned us against the evils of partisan politics.

I'd submit that if the GOP really thinks that a majority of Americans want them to continue to be the party of "No" for the next two  years as the recovery falters and the various crisises facing the country -- continuing decline of our manufacturing sector and a continuing increase in the dispartiy of income between the rich and everyone else -- they've seriously misread the mood of the electorate, the Tea Party included.

So they can continue to blast out their false claims that Obama is a "socialist" and a "Muslim," or they can get serious about doing the jobs they've been elected to do. If they don't, they won't hold them long. Let's remember that two years ago the post-election discussion was if the GOP could survive as a national party. That argument looks pretty dumb now, although there are demographic problems that Republicans will have to deal with over the next 20 to 25  years if they don't want to beome the party of angry old white people.

Because 2012's electorate is likely to look very different from Tuesday's. The young people and African Americans who helped elect Obama in 2008 will be back at the polls. Their absence accounts for many of the Republican gains this year.

We'll get an early test of how seriously Congressional Republicans are going to treat the task of governing and how they'll square the interests of their traditional consitituencies with the Tea Party.

Unless Congress takes action, the Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of the year.

Republicans have insisted that they all be made permanent. The president, and most Congressional Democrats, want to extend the tax cuts for those making under $250,000 and let them expire for the wealthiest taxpayers.

If you think the deficit is  a problem, you should be cheering the end of these tax cuts. They'll add either $3 trillion (Democratic plan) or $4 trillion (Republican plan) to the deficit over the next 10 years. That's more than the health care reform bill that some are worried will "bust the budget." The most prudent fiscal course would be, as Rep. Bobby Scott (R-3rd) has suggested, to let them all expire.

That isn't going to happen. So Republicans and their fans in the Tea Party are going to have to decide if they care more about deficit reduction or tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Obama and the Democrats could make that choice a little harder by "compromising" and upping the threshold for the tax increase to trigger to $500,000 or even $1 million. Is the Tea Party going to back higher deficits for the benefit of tax cuts specifically for millionaires?

In case anyone is worried that higher taxes would hurt the economy, the rates would only be going back to what they were during the Clinton years. Remember, when the economy boomed and we actually balanced the budget for the first time since Vietnam?

Since Obama's political fate is tied so closely to the economy, in working to deny him a second term do Republicans have to take actions that they know will be bad for the economy?

And if they do, won't Democrats and voters make sure they are held accountable for those choices?

The next two years will tell the tale. We can either have gridlock or we can have cooperation to do the people's business and right the ship of state. My guess is that voters are smart enough to know the difference and reward those who do the right thing.

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