Riding the wave: Pressure is on Republicans, not Obama

obama-header2The pundits have declared President Obama a lame duck in light of the wave that swept Republicans into power in the U.S. Senate this week.

Technically speaking, Obama was a lame duck the moment he was re-elected, because he couldn’t be elected again thereafter, and the clock was ticking, even before his second inauguration, to the end of the Obama era in the history books.

But now that the GOP has the Senate and a bigger majority in the House, it could be said that Obama as duck is lamer than ever before, sure.

What can he possibly hope to initiate in terms of legislation that will ever see the light of day on Capitol Hill? At best, he protects his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, from being gutted, and otherwise plays defense as Republicans begin measuring the drapes for whoever in their midst wins the White House in 2016.

Not so fast on all that.

Obama still has a pen that he can use to veto anything Congress tries to do, so while, yeah, Republicans have majorities in the House and Senate, they can’t just ramrod through anything they want to. In fact, you can expect it will be hard for the GOP to get anything of substance to the president’s desk, assuming that Senate Democrats play the filibuster threat game even half as well as Republicans have the past four years.

The pressure, then, isn’t on Obama, the lame duck, who is T-minus 26 months and counting from joining the Ex-Presidents Club, but on Republicans, who chipped away at the efforts undertaken by Obama and his team to build a coalition by making the word no the centerpiece of their policy agenda.

It’s easy to shout no from the sidelines and to play the rules of the Senate to block things from happening when you’re the minority without any sense of accountability when things don’t get done; now Republicans are the majority, and if the Senate doesn’t produce a budget, if the Senate fails to address immigration, if the Senate fails to address healthcare, that’s not on harry reid.

From being the Party of No, now the GOP has to come up with actual ideas that can then be shepherded through the minefield that is today’s bifurcated Republican caucus. And this is not a party united; the Tea Party is still the tail wagging the dog, and the fights in caucus meetings over policy specifics are likely to be more strenuous than those that take place on the floors of Congress with the other side.

And about that other side: the pressure is completely off congressional Democrats at this point, and looking at 2016, that’s a huge advantage. Democrats get to be the Party of No now, highlighting the upcoming issues that Mitch McConnell and john boehner will have getting anything done in fundraising emails and press releases and on the cable-news gabfests.

And now to that lame duck. Obama, according to the Republican narrative, hasn’t made any effort in six years to reach out to Republicans, which is all sales pitch and no reality even if all you do is look at the source of his signature act in office, the Affordable Care Act, which he didn’t base on the progressive dream of single-payer, but rather a plan schemed by the conservative Heritage Foundation as a 1993 alternative to the healthcare reform championed by Bill Clinton.

Speaking of Clinton, it’s not even arguable that he did his best work after that healthcare proposal led to the 1994 Republican revolution that gave the GOP control of the House and Senate for what turned out to be the duration of his two terms. Clinton was able to work with the very Republicans who were impeaching him to achieve budget peace that resulted in the only balanced budgets to come out of Washington in the last 40 years.

Obama, lame duck, has incentive to reach across the aisle to protect his legacy, which at this point is the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have no incentive, at least at the outset, to reach back, with their ranks more focused in the here and now on committee assignment, chairmanships and the inevitable round of ideological litmus tests.

A few months of getting nothing done will begin the turn of public opinion currently headwinding Obama into the faces of Republican leaders, and set a different tone into the second half of 2015 that will provide the backdrop for a 2016 that will look nothing like what we’ve seen this week.

– Column by Chris Graham


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