With the Senate falling into the hands of the Republicans, it is easy to predict that President Obama will have a miserable life his last two years in office, but I don’t see it that way. It is possible that with the new responsibility that comes with controlling the entire legislative branch, the Republicans will grow up and actually do the job they were sent to Washington perform. If they don’t they will pay a price. In addition, I believe that we will see evidence over the next two years that President Obama’s policies are working and that his legacy will be secured.
First of all, if ever there was ever a set up for the Democrats to lose the Senate, this was the year. All of the historical precedents ran against them. In the last 19 off year elections, in only 6 did the President’s party manage not lose any Senate seats. For off year elections during a President’s second term, only once did the President’s party manage to not lose a single Senate seats – in Bill Clinton’s second term. Plus as luck would have it, the Senate seats up for grabs in this two year cycle favored the Republicans with more Democratic at risk in competitive and normally Republican states. Add to all of this to the President’s sub 50% approval ratings and the Democrats faced a receipt for disaster.
In addition, control of the Senate does not mean that the Republicans can pass any bill that they wish in that chamber. Nothing gets done in the Senate without consensus. The reason being that the majority party needs 60% of the votes to cut off debate on a bill and if the majority party can’t cut off debate, the bill dies immediately. Not much got done over the last six years in the Senate because the Republican minority used that rule to kill any bill they didn’t like and now the Democrats, if they wish, can now return the favor. That should make the Republicans in the Senate more amenable to compromise if they want to get anything done. Of course, the Senate will have at least three members poised to be candidates for the Presidency who will be trying to convince their Republican base what big bad conservatives they are. You have to add to that equation firebrand Tea Parties types like Ted Cruse have fought tooth and nail against compromising on anything. It will be very interesting. And of course the renegade Tea Party Republicans in the House are again prepared to make John Boehner’s life miserable if he even thinks about compromising on anything.
Of course the President holds the trump card. It doesn’t really matter what bills the House and the Senate pass, President Obama can veto any bill if he sees fit to do so and the Republicans will not have the votes to override his veto.
So the Republicans are like dogs which have been chasing a car for the last 6 years. Now that they have caught the car, what are they going to do with it? With ownership of both the House and Senate comes greatly increased responsibility. The Republicans have proven they are very good at obstruction; now can they show that they can also govern? They can go two ways, they can continue in their current obstructionist role or they can prove they actually get something done in Washington. The only way they can do the latter is through compromise with Democratic Senate members and ultimately with the President.
It is obvious what the Republicans should do if they care about their country and their party. There are many issues such as immigration reform, infrastructure, job creation, etc. for which compromise agreements can be reached. On the other hand, if for the next two years the Republicans continue to push measures which will not be supported by the Democrats in the House and the Senate and have no chance of getting past a Presidential veto, then they will ultimately prove that they are not capable of governing. The demographics are already turning against them for Presidential campaigns; if they continue to be seen as contributing to the Washington mess, they will have no chance at all of capturing the Presidency in 2016
On the other hand ,while it is up to the Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate to determine whether they can keep their members in line long enough to pass compromise legislation which the President can actually sign, President Obama benefits either way. If the Republicans are successful in offering up real compromise, the President will get credit from the American public for doing his share to make Washington work for the people. If the Republicans fail, it will be apparent for all to see and then President Obama will then be free to proceed down the road of using executive orders to do what he can without the help of Congress on issues such as immigration. Such actions will strengthen the Democratic Party’s chances in the next Presidential election.
In addition, scaring the American people into voting for more conservative candidates has long been a favorite Republican tactic which they used with some success in the recent elections. However, in my opinion the bogymen the Republicans have been using to try to prove that President Obama is not an effective leader will gradually fade from the scene.
Vladimir Putin and the scrawny Russian bear (it’s no longer the big bad bear that the USSR used to be) have retired to their dens after Western sanctions took a big bite out of their economic backsides. It was our President who organized those sanctions and convinced European leaders to help put them in place. Those sanctions have not yet been lifted and won’t be until the bear demonstrates to everyone’s satisfaction that it will play nice with its neighbors.
Using Ebola as a scare tactic was a popular Republican ploy in the just completed election cycle, but evidence is mounting that even if travelers come down with virus after entering this country, they are of negligible risk to ordinary Americans. Sooner or later it will dawn on the most anxious among us that an Ebola epidemic is simply not going to happen here. In addition, the world is going to be grateful eventually for efforts of President Obama which helped to extinguish the epidemic at its source in Africa.
Even big scary ISIS is starting to look beatable by they few who are willing to fight them when they are supplied with American arms and supported by coalition air power. A year from now the tide will have turned against ISIS and by the end of the President Obama last term, ISIS’s vow to restore the long lost caliphate will return to being just an unobtainable dream. President Obama will be remembered for organizing the collation which spelled the demise of this murderous pack of thugs.
Eventually historians will give credit to President Obama for leading our country and the world out a great recession which could easily have turned into a great depression. True the economy has been slow to recover as should have been expected after it took such a drastic hit. The recovery was further slowed by the refusal of Republicans in Congress to support the President’s plans to have the government lead the country to recovery. Corporations took advantage of the situation by putting increasing profits over creating new jobs as the recovery continued. And they continued to outsource jobs to underdeveloped countries instead of putting Americans back to work.
However, a slower than normal recovery is also a longer than normal recovery. The pressures, such as inflation, that normally build up and turn an upward moving economy into a down cycle normally show up on average every four years. This recovery is approaching four and a half year point and there has yet been no evidence of those pressures. The recovery has been proceeding (admitted very slowly) since the middle of 2009 and most economists and financial experts predict it will continue for at least another year. Jobs are returning and both unemployment rate and the underemployment have continued to drop.
One thing that the Republicans in congress hase never, and probably will never allow the President to do anything about is the lost of spending power by the average American, the dwindling of the American middle class, and the every widening economic gap between American workers and their corporate bosses. We must continue to point out that the Republican Party is not the champion of the middle class. This is by far the most glaring weakness of the GOP, one that can be exploited in future elections.
As for the President’s signature piece of legislation – the Republican attacks on the Affordable Health Care Act will continue. I can’t imagine the Republican run house going two years without voting again to repeal what they call Obamacare. (Heck, they voted to repeal it 50 times in the last two years.) However, this time they will toss that hot potato, not to a Senate run by Democrats who would just fall let it fall to ground and ignore it, this time it will land in the lap of the Senate’s Republican leadership. Can you imagine the wrath of the Tea Party base if they don’t at least try to bring it to a vote? Of course the Senate Democrats will then make use of the Senate’s closure rule which the Republicans found so useful when they were in the minority. So the bill will probably never even come up for a vote I the Senate. And if it does, the President will veto it. The same will be true for any bill aimed at significantly weakening the program.
So ‘Obamacare” will survive and by the end of the Presidents tenure in office it will be so entrenched that it will be virtually repeal proof. Right now over 7,000,000 Americans are enrolled in the program and the price of not having health insurance is going to swell the roles of the program over the next two years. Citizens not enrolled in a health insurance plan by Jan. 1, 2014 will face a penalty. The penalty will be a tax of $285 per family or one percent of income, whichever is greater. By 2016, the penalty increases to $2,085 per family or 2.5 percent of income. This provision of the act makes it less likely that the rest of us will have to pick the medical tabs (in the form of higher insurance rates) of the freeloaders who chose not to be covered. Of course, those who can’t afford coverage will receive significant federal assistance in the form of lower insurance rates. Social programs like this one tend to get entrenched in American society over time. If you don’t think so try going up to some old geezer in his tri cornered hat and “Don’t Tread on Me” flag who is demonstrating to keep the government out of health care and tell him that the government is going to take away his Medicare insurance.
Finally there is every reason to be optimistic about the Democratic Party’s chances of recovery in the 2016 elections. We will have a very formidable (if yet undeclared) candidate who will be making a bid to be the first woman to become President of the United States. (If you think the gender gap is big now, wait until American women have a chance to vote for another woman.) In addition, everyone will know she will have an in-house adviser who was one of the most effective Presidents in the 20th century and one of best politicians ever. The Senate election map which so favored the Republicans in 2014 will be right reversed two years from now with many more Republicans at risk in difficult situations. The ever expanding Democratic base of women, minorities and young people always vote in greater numbers in Presidential election years. If Republicans leaders in the House and Senate don’t learn how to control their rowdy members who think “compromise” is a dirty word, their loss of congressional seats will make this year’s Democratic losses look small by comparison.
So despair not fellow Democrats. The Republicans will not be able to fully take advantages of their election gains and the next two years do not not look bleak for President Obama and the Democrats. It may look dark now, but the rising sun is already brightening the horizon.