Despite President Obama’s impressive first term on the domestic front, with the recent financial reform bill joining health reform and last year’s stimulus measure as major accomplishments, the shaky recovery and high unemployment continue to bolster Republican prospects in this fall’s mid-term elections. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman reminds us that, when it comes to elections, former Clinton campaign chieftain James Carville was right: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
The White House is trying to put up a brave face, with Vice President Biden predicting last weekend that Democrats will retain control of both the House and Senate. Nevertheless, polls suggest a problematic terrain for Democrats. Republicans have been salivating for weeks over their chances to retake control of the House, and the Wall Street Journal reports that they are increasingly eyeing the Senate for a possible takeover.
What gets far less attention, however, is what such prospects mean for progress on fiscal and related matters – for addressing long-term deficits, reforming the tax code, boosting the economy, and so on. That issue is more complicated than it seems, conventional wisdom to the contrary notwithstanding.
At first blush, more Republican seats should translate automatically into more gridlock in Washington.
A Republican minority with more seats in the House will have greater chances of teaming with conservative Democrats to block Obama’s initiatives, while one with more seats in the Senate will be even better placed to find 40 of their members to filibuster such initiatives to death.
Obviously, GOP control of either or both chambers would put Republicans in the driver’s seat. They will be able to block Obama’s agenda, send their own bills to the President’s desk, and use their control of congressional committees to hold hearings and launch investigations to embarrass the White House.
That’s all true, but history tells a more complicated story – and it’s one we should keep in mind as we look ahead.
Here, then, are possible scenarios for fiscal and other progress depending on how November’s elections shine on the two parties.
Perhaps the surest path to further gridlock is the one that the White House and congressional Democrats hope to salvage – limiting their electoral losses enough to retain House and Senate control.