Nov 05 2010

The 112th Congress: My Take

(4 PM – promoted by TheMomCat)

One of the problems, post-election, will be the Democrats’ reaction to the mid-term blowout. In past elections where Democrats have lost seats, there was a rush to emulate the conventional wisdom of why the other side prevailed. This time, aided by the corporate media that proclaims the country has moved solidly to the center- right, it is very conceivable that the Democrats will overreact to the small government, roll back spending, cut taxes, and reduce the deficit ‘mandate’ that the American people supposedly gave the Republicans in the recent election.

We all know that is nonsense. However, the Democratic Party has never been known to be the most astute when it comes to playing political hardball.

The freshmen House Republicans are not considered to be moderate by anyone’s measure. It is expected by many (but not all) that these newly elected representatives will not only join their caucus in lock step voting, but may end up pushing the GOP toward a more extreme position. While the House Democratic caucus will be a truer reflection of the ideology of the left now that the number of Blue Dogs has been drastically reduced, nevertheless it will be a minority without any meaningful voice in shaping legislation. In the long term, a more aligned left will provide more desirable results, but in the short term it will be powerless in the next congress.

As the House is traditionally responsible for the origin of revenue/expenditure legislation, it is unfathomable to expect anything coming from that body in the 112th Congress that calls for increased federal expenditures other than for national security and defense; rather it is anticipated to see much in the form of legislation that reduces expenditures. In short, there will be no additional federal stimulus to the economy and funding for liberal/progressive programs already in place will be eliminated or drastically reduced. Additionally, one could reasonably expect a stream of bills that are intended to deregulate the business community, to the detriment of society in general. Fortunately, all House legislation must be ratified or consensually amended by the Senate before it can be sent to the President for signature and become law.

Given that the House rules allow the Republican majority to do as they see fit, without the need of any Democrats to pass legislation, the Senate is now the Democratic firewall to stop an extremist House; or is it?

The Senate will remain under the control of the Democratic Party but with a very slim majority caucus of just 6 seats. When one looks at the difficulty that a 59 member Democratic caucus (+18 seats) experienced in passing liberal/progressive legislation, it isn’t logical to assume that a much smaller Senate majority in the 112th Congress (still consisting of ConservaDems) shall have any greater success. The Senate should attempt to pass liberal legislation, such as Immigration Reform, the Dream Act, etc if only to show the public that it has tried. Of course, any liberal legislation must be ratified by the House and that just isn’t going to happen.

Still, there are various proposals to reform the 60 vote requirement for cloture in the Senate with the intent of ending the gridlock in the Senate. However, ending gridlock as a noble objective depends upon which side of the majority/minority you sit on. While the Democrats remain in the majority, the caucus is not near as unified as their Republican counterpart. It goes without saying that the GOP has successfully capitalized on their obstructionist strategy. In fact they were, and continue to be, blatant about it. What we all believed early in 2009 to be their political suicide has proven to be just the opposite. So why reward Republicans by surrendering our use of a tool that has shown to be so effective when used against us?

As next senate will continue to include many centrist Democrats while the Republicans are effectively purging their caucus of moderates, it is worth noting there will be 23 Democratic caucus-held Senate seats up for re-election in 2012. Many of them will believe it necessary to ‘work’ with Republicans so as to be seen as ‘bi-partisan’ in the hope that they can appeal to the swing voter (taking the base for granted) and be re-elected. It is extremely likely that several of these senators, such as Ben Nelson, Claire McCaskill, Joe Lieberman, Bob Casey, Jim Webb, Jon Tester, Kent Conrad, Tom Carper, and newly elected Joe Manchin would break with the Democrats and join the Republicans on some draconian legislation. Under a simple majority rule, the chances of that happening are dramatically increased; it only takes 4 defectors to give the Republicans 51 votes. Reforming the filibuster to allow a simple majority vote on cloture will only end up handing the keys to our national policy to the likes of the ConservaDems, who, as it stands now under current cloture rules, have now been rendered irrelevant.

The president has voiced his support for reforming the way a filibuster is used without committing to specifics, as has Harry Reid. While I once agreed that such reform is necessary for the long term good of the country, the timing could not be worse for liberals/progressives on policy issues. And given the deep ideological divide that exists, the time may never come.  Perhaps an extremely limited reform of the rules that would prohibit all Executive Branch nominations (except SCOTUS) from being subject to a filibuster would be an acceptable change.

So as I see it, what we have to look forward to is the Democrats in congress playing what little offense they can and faced with two strategic options:

1. Compromise on extreme Republican legislation with the intent of watering it down so that the affect will not be as bad as it could be but still unacceptable. In other words, be Republican-lite. This appears to be the initial strategy emanating from the WH and Democratic leadership. It seems that they have learned nothing from the Blue Dog slaughter on Tuesday.


2. Counter all extreme House Republican revenue legislation in the Senate with liberal alternatives of economic stimulus bills(knowing they won’t pass) and at the same time not allow any extreme Republican legislation to become law in any way, shape, or form, including any deficit reduction legislation that adversely affects entitlement programs. This would provide the Democrats with an energized platform to run on in 2012. A side benefit to this strategy would be the frustration of the Tea Party activists who are expecting big policy changes from the Republicans. Perhaps they will find even more extreme candidates to back in 2012.

The one hugely variable component in the Democrats’ posture during the 112th Congress will be President Obama. He is the de facto leader of the party. Contrary to what is being discussed on the blogs and cable news outlets, he did say in his press conference yesterday that there are differences between the parties that will not be able to be reconciled. My hope is that he discovers sooner than later that the differences, not to mention the consequences, far outweigh any benefit he might realize in search of common ground.  

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