Tip O’Neill famously said all politics is local. Yesterday, Republicans won big by turning that adage on its head. They nationalized state races and turned President Obama’s unpopularity and his administration’s failures into anvils around the necks of Democratic candidates. Even states that Obama carried turned against him. A happy exception to that trend was New Hampshire’s returning Jeanne Shaheen to the Senate rather than Scott Brown. (Watch out, Connecticut, Rhode Island or Maine. Scott Brown may be taking his Senate aspirations to a vacation home near you!)
New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for whom making Obama a one-term President was the top GOP priority, said last night he’d look for action on issues where there could be agreement. Can we believe he understands the electorate’s anger at partisan gridlock. A pre-election Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed half of all voters preferred a candidate who will “make compromises to gain consensus on legislation.” This is up from 34 percent in the 2010 mid-term.
Politico suggests 11 issues where consensus action is possible. But I’m a doubter. There’s a hollowness to McConnell’s rhetoric. Unlike Newt Gingrich’s 1994 revolution, the Republicans (the party of No) are without a positive agenda of their own, except for Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, which still seems to be a non-starter. It’s a given that there will be a move to repeal the Affordable Care Act and also Dodd-Frank financial reforms. There are probably other pet bills that the Republican-controlled Congress will push to the President’s desk, for likely veto. Look as well for a plethora of investigations into what some claim are Obama Administration’s serial executive and regulatory abuses of power. Might the GOP also move to impeach?
The Ted Cruz wing of the Republican Party will probably read yesterday’s results as a reason for no compromise. Cruz himself could challenge McConnell for Majority Leader! On the left, the Elizabeth Warren wing will highlight differences within the Democratic Party. For many, compromise is an unnatural act.
And let’s not forget that, notwithstanding the bipartisan leadership meeting the President has scheduled for Friday morning, he has a miserable track record dealing with Congressional leaders (Dems and Reps alike). In building his legacy, it’s unclear how much the lame duck chief executive will prefer executive orders and vetoes to adopting more right-of-center positions.
Both parties may want to play to their bases in the build-up to the 2016 Presidential election. Democrats may not want to negotiate, lest it be thought that a Republican-controlled Congress is capable of leading the country. Republicans may be reluctant to give Obama any victories, even small ones, lest it weaken their rationale for electing a Republican President two years from now.
So the real fight over the next few years will be between the purists and the pragmatists, the partisans and the problem solvers. I wouldn’t go to the bank on promises of cooperation or productivity.
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