Monday, December 27, 2010

2010's winners and losers

They say that 12 months is a lifetime in politics. And it's true that political fortunes can certainly rise and fall in a year. That means each year has its share of political winners and losers.

2010 Winners

The Tea Party - In 2010 this group went from being considered on the fringe to being credited with Republicans' big gains in this year's Congressional elections. There's no doubt the Tea Party stirred interest in the mid-terms on the Republican side (polls show most Tea Party activists were and are Republicans). However, most insurgents the Tea Party backed in primary wins over Republican insiders - Joe Miller in Alaska, Sharon Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Deleware, for example, lost in the general election. Still, the Tea Party elected enough of their favorites to influence the GOP in Congress.

Republicans - They took back the House of Representatives, closed the Democratic margin in the Senate and captured a majority of the nation's governors' mansions. That's despite polling that shows the county still doesn't trust them or their approach to the issues. November's vote wasn't so much "Yes" on the Republican agenda as "No" on the current Democratic Congress. The GOP gain was also fueled by Tea Party activism and the party is now challenged to find a way to keep those activists enthused and engaged, without letting them actually choose the party's nominees, a recipe for electoral disaster.

Ken Cuccinelli - Virginia's activist attorney general became the darling of the national Tea Party by taking on President Obama's health care reform program in the courts and winning, at least temporarily. Although there's a good chance the Supreme Court will eventually rule against him, Cuccinelli gained national exposure in conservative circles.

Barack Obama -  It might seems strange to say this less than two months after his party was shellacked at the polls, but Obama personally had a pretty good year. While some of what he pushed through the Congress, stimulus funding and health care reform in particular, may seem unpopular now, those measures give  him a chance at being re-elected. So does the additional stimulus he was able to get in the budget deal with Republicans that temporarily extended the Bush tax cuts. He's also been winding down the war in Iraq in good fashion, as promised. If the economy picks up Obama, who looked like the only adult in the room as Democrats and Republicans in Congress argued, will benefit.

Virginia Republicans - Regained the three House of Representatives seats they lost in 2008 and picked up another by knocking out long-time incumbent Rep. Rick Boucher in the 9th district in Southwest Virginia to take an 8-3 lead in the House delegation. That had to build confidence for 2012 and what could be a bloody rematch between Jim Webb and George Allen for the seat Webb won in 2006.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Obama proves he's politically nimble

After Democrats got "shellacked" in this year's elections, many wondered how long it would take President Barack Obama to move "back to the center" in the face of an incoming Republican majority in the House and a diminished Democratic majority in the Senate.

Turns out it took about a month for Obama to get on top of the situation.

And, he didn't really have to go all that far to get "back to the center," particularly compared to the incoming class of Republicans.

Although the recent deal Obama cut with the Republicans on the Bush tax cuts was roundly denounced by liberals in and out of Congress, it seems he was fairly adept at using what Republicans wanted above all else -- a tax cut for rich folks -- to get something Democrats had no other chance at -- a second stimulus package.

Republicans, who won the election saying they cared about the deficit, quickly showed where their allegiance really was, negotiating a major increase in the deficit for a two-year extension of the George W. Bush's tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 per year.

They've also put themselves in a position where they are virtually forced to vote for an increase in the nation's debt ceiling, which will alienate their Tea Party backers, to pay for the tax cuts they asked for.

The deal includes other tax cuts, including a temporary roll back of the Social Security payroll tax, that will pump money into the economy. It also included an extension of unemployment benefits. That's something that Obama and the Demcrats wanted, but had no way to get past Republicans on their own.

Those measures can only help the economy by putting more money in the hands of people very likely to spend it. Obama hopes that it helps enough to win him re-election two years from now.

In return, the GOP really got only part of what it wanted. Republicans campaigned on and negotiated for making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent. Instead they've only been extended for two years. That includes a restoration of the Estate Tax at 35% on estates worth more than $5 million. While some Democrats think that's too much, the Republicans wanted no inheritance tax at all. The two-year extension means the GOP's insistence on cutting taxes for the wealthy and trying to ensure Paris Hilston inherits as much as possible while resisting help for working folks struggling during the recession remains a potent campaign issues for Democrats in 2012.

About the only place where Obama stumbled, and this is a mistake he's been prone to, is that he wasn't tough enough in negotiations. He underestimated how much Republicans wanted that tax break for the well off.

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