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“Can The Voters Change The GOP?”: The Electorate Must Realize That The Radical Right Is The Real Culprit

The central issue in this fall’s elections could turn out to be a sleeper: What kind of Republican Party does the country want?

It is, to be sure, a strange question to put to an electorate in which independents and Democrats constitute a majority. Yet there is no getting around this: The single biggest change in Washington over the last five years has been a GOP shift to a more radical form of conservatism. This, in turn, has led to a kind of rejectionism that views cooperation with President Obama as inherently unprincipled.

Solving the country’s problems requires, above all, turning the Republican Party back into a political enterprise willing to share the burdens of governing, even when a Democrat is in the White House.

For those looking for a different, more constructive Republicanism, this is not a great year to stage the battle. Because of gerrymandering, knocking the current band of Republicans out of control of the House is a Herculean task. And most of the competitive seats in the fight for the Senate are held by Democrats in Republican states. The GOP needs to win six currently Democratic seats to take over, and it appears already to have nailed down two or three of these. Republicans are now favored in the open seats of South Dakota and West Virginia, and probably also in Montana.

Nonetheless, there is as yet no sense of the sort of tide that in 2010 gave a Republicanism inflected with tea party sensibilities dominance in the House. The core narrative of the campaign has yet to be established. Democrats seeking reelection are holding their own in Senate races in which they are seen as vulnerable.

And then there was last week’s House fiasco over resolving the refugee crisis at our border. It served as a reminder that Republican leaders are handcuffing themselves by choosing to appease their most right-wing members rather than pursuing middle-ground legislation by collaborating with Democrats.

The bill that House Speaker John Boehner was trying to pass last Thursday already tilted well rightward. It provided Obama with only a fraction of what he said was needed to deal with the crisis — $659 million, compared with the president’s request for $3.7 billion. It also included provisions to put deportations on such a fast track that Obama threatened to veto it. A White House statement said that its “arbitrary timelines” were both impractical and inhumane.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi happened to be meeting with a group of journalists when the bill collapsed. “In order for them to pass a bill, they had to make it worse and worse and worse,” she said, referring to Boehner’s efforts to placate members who have entered into an unusual cross-chamber alliance with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to foil even conservative legislation if they regard it as insufficiently pure. When the bill was pulled back, Pelosi observed: “They couldn’t make it bad enough.”

On Friday, the GOP leadership pushed the measure still further right and added $35 million for border states to get it passed at an unusual evening session — but not before Republicans themselves had complained loudly about dysfunction in their own ranks.

In the meantime, the Senate was paralyzed on the issue by filibusters and other procedural hurdles that have rendered majority rule an antique notion in what once proudly proclaimed itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

As the House was preparing to pass its bill, Obama told a news conference on Friday that GOP leaders were well aware that he’d veto it if it came to him and bemoaned the fact that “even basic, commonsense, plain vanilla legislation” can’t get through because Republicans fear “giving Obama a victory.”

Last week’s legislative commotion could change the political winds by putting the costs of the GOP’s flight from moderation into stark relief. House Republicans found themselves in the peculiar position of simultaneously suing Obama for executive overreach and then insisting that he could act unilaterally to solve the border crisis.

Pelosi, for her part, went out of her way to praise “the Grand Old Party that did so much and has done so much for our country.” Commending the opposing party is not an election year habit, but her point was to underscore that Republicans had been “hijacked” by a “radical right wing” that is not simply “anti-government” but also “anti-governance.”

On balance, Washington gridlock has hurt Democrats more than Republicans by dispiriting moderate and progressive constituencies that had hoped Obama could usher in an era of reform. The key to the election will be whether Democrats can persuade these voters that the radical right is the real culprit in their disappointment — and get them to act accordingly on Election Day.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 3, 2014

August 4, 2014 Posted by | Election 2014, Electorate, GOP, Right Wing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Cogs In The Wheel”: With Midterms Approaching, Voters Must Return To Senses

The boys and girls of Congress are returning from summer camp — er, Capitol Hill — to their real homes where they will 1) raise money and plead to be returned to camp; 2) stress how much they hate the nation’s political polarization; and 3) pledge never to compromise their beliefs.

Folks, there is no way to escape their blandishments unless you do not go out in public, especially to a county fair, parade or political rally. You’ll also have to refuse to answer your phone or open your front door. And do not power up your TV or car radio until the middle of November.

“Midterm election” may sound innocuous. This year it is a synonym for blood sport.

When President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, he had a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House. In 2010, Democrats lost the House, and gleeful Republicans decided to make Obama’s life miserable.

House Republicans attempted to block anything he proposed. They did very well. They shut down the government at a cost of $24 billion. They proudly have passed the fewest number of bills in recent history, even those that 90 percent of Americans want, such as keeping guns out of schools. They voted to repeal Obamacare at least 50 times. They are hoping to sue Obama successfully for not enforcing Obamacare to the letter of the law even though, obviously, they don’t really want him to enforce it. Lately, some have begun talking blithely about “impeachment.”

Chafing to kick Obama around even harder, Republicans have vowed to win control of the Senate this November.They may succeed.

Upset at the prospect of being a lame dog for two more years and having no friends in Washington except his Portuguese water dogs, the president of the United States is counter-attacking. That means he will attend just about any Democratic fundraiser White House aides can locate by GPS. (Word to church groups and PTAs: Now might be the time to invite POTUS to your next gathering.)

Republicans had a field day pointing out that Obama refused to go to the southern border to see the plight of unaccompanied children streaming across but went to Colorado to play pool and raise money. Never mind that Republicans have blocked every Obama attempt to try to fix the broken immigration system.

So guess what is going to be a big rallying cry for Republicans this November? The broken immigration system.

And guess what the second GOP battle cry will be? The need to get all those millions of Americans who now have health insurance to agree they should give it up.

Everybody is angry with the political system because it is broken, results in the tyranny of the few over the majority, fails to help people who really need it, fills the coffers of the richest and preserves the status quo.

Oddly, the Tea Partyers who hate government the most are clamoring the loudest to be given government paychecks so they can cause more havoc such as refusing to raise the debt limit (thus destroying what remaining good faith the U.S. has). They also want to cut off more aid to the working poor and refuse to fix crumbling roads and bridges.

Millions of voters fed up with the impasse in Washington (where nothing of strategic importance is being done) will elect and reelect the cogs in the wheel. The lost battle for civility only got more hopeless when Tea Partyers realized that dumping vitriol (and untruths) on moderate opponents is one of the best ways to get a hand in the public till.

Voters, return to your senses. Do not elect or reelect anyone who wants to refuse to pay debts America already has incurred. Do not pull any lever for someone who proudly promises never to compromise (without it, politics is meaningless). Do not send to Washington anyone who tells you how much he/she hates government. Do not give your precious vote to anyone who labels the other side evil, treasonous, demonic or stupid. (Well, stupid is OK.)

And it’s OK, too, this August to shake hands with a politician with sticky cotton candy on your palm.


By: Ann McFeatters, Op-Ed Columnist for McClatchy-Tribune: The National Memo, August 1, 2014

August 2, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Election 2014 | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Koch Brothers’ Expanding 2014 Operation”: Democrats Are Now Running Against Two Parties

It’s a number that gives Democrats chills: $125 million. That’s the widely reported number reflecting how much the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity intends to spend on this year’s midterm elections. In practical terms, it means Democrats will effectively be running against two rivals: Republicans and the Republicans’ outside allies.

Reid Wilson reports today, however, that the scope of the AFP operation isn’t done expanding.

Americans for Prosperity, the on-the-ground wing of the network of conservative organizations spearheaded by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, will open new state chapters in South Dakota and Alaska in coming weeks, the group’s president said. In an interview, Tim Phillips said that would bring to 35 the number of states where AFP has permanent offices. […]

Phillips said early reports that his organization will dish out $125 million on the midterm elections understates the actual amount they will spend.

If you’re starting to see AFP as something resembling an actual political party, there’s a good reason – the lines have blurred. The Koch-funded group has hundreds of field operatives, just like a party. It’s opening field offices in dozens of states, just like a party. It’s focusing on GOTV operations, just like a party.

And, of course, it’s investing millions in anti-Democratic attack ads, just like a party.

But unlike other national far-right forces, the Kochs’ group (just like a party) also intends to help “influence the makeup of state legislatures.” Tim Phillips told the Washington Post,  ”A lot of times a local property tax battle will bring a whole new group of people out. It’s easier to get movement on the state level.”

All of this, incidentally, doesn’t include the AFP’s “action fund.”

Remember this one?

During a closed-door gathering of major donors in Southern California on Monday, the political operation spearheaded by the Koch brothers unveiled a significant new weapon in its rapidly expanding arsenal – a super PAC called Freedom Partners Action Fund.

The new group aims to spend more than $15 million in the 2014 midterm campaigns – part of a much larger spending effort expected to total $290 million, sources told POLITICO.

As we talked about at the time, the “action fund” will allow the Koch brothers and their donor allies to be more explicit in their backing of like-minded Republicans, while devoting more of their campaign dollars to actual campaign activities.

This isn’t to say the beneficiaries of the Kochs’ support always win; the results from the 2012 cycle clearly show otherwise. But we’re nevertheless looking a formidable political force that Democrats and the left will simply never be able to keep up with financially.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 18, 2014

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Election 2014, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Time For Some Happy Talk From Democrats”: Ban The Word “But” Until After The Election

Democrats, if you want to win in the fall, take some advice from Pharrell Williams: “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.”

The Mountie-hat-wearing pop singer’s infectious “Happy” should be the Democratic Party’s theme song for the midterm election. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, things are definitely looking up. Democrats ought to be clicking their heels and spreading the good news.

Friday’s announcement that unemployment fell to 6.3 percent was huge. The fact that the economy added 288,000 jobs in April — despite continued bad weather early in the month in parts of the country — suggests that the recovery has greater momentum than pessimists had feared. Economists were expecting decent numbers. These are great.

The stock market, meanwhile, is flirting with an all-time high. The Dow has risen about 10 percent over the past year; the S&P 500, more than 16 percent; the Nasdaq, about 22 percent . During President Obama’s term in office, the Dow has more than doubled. If he were a socialist, as his harshest critics claim, he’d be a truly lousy one.

The numbers prove that Obama is, in fact, a skillful capitalist who guided the economy out of its worst slump since the Great Depression. He accomplished this feat despite being saddled with a Republican opposition in Congress that reflexively opposes his every initiative — even those based on policies the GOP supported in the past.

Speaking of which, the Affordable Care Act — which is based, you’ll recall, on a framework developed in Republican think tanks — is clearly a success and may soon be seen as a triumph. More than 8 million people have signed up for insurance through the federal and state exchanges; Obama’s benchmark had been 7 million. Enough of these enrollees are young and healthy to ensure the program’s continued viability.

The disasters predicted by the Republican Party have not come true. Critics have stopped talking about a hypothetical “death spiral” in which the health insurance reforms collapse of their own weight, since it is now clear that nothing of the sort will happen. Early indications are that any increase in premiums for next year will be modest. Republicans will keep attacking Obamacare because it fires up the base, but the program is here to stay.

Democrats now have a positive story they can tell in their campaign ads and speeches: “We promised you that these were the right policies to get the economy on track and reform health care. We said it would take time to see results and asked for patience. You gave us your trust, and now we’re seeing the benefits. This is just the beginning. Give us a mandate to keep moving forward on an agenda that is working.”

This is what Democrats are saying, more or less. But would it hurt to show a little enthusiasm?

Obama can be excused for his brief and relatively low-key reaction to the jobs numbers Friday. He spoke in the White House Rose Garden alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he had just met, and the situation in Ukraine was clearly weighing on both leaders’ minds.

“The grit and determination of the American people are moving us forward,” Obama said, “but we have to keep a relentless focus on job creation and creating more opportunities for working families.”

I propose that Democrats ban the word “but” until after the election.

Republicans are giving “but” a workout. Unemployment may be down to 6.3 percent, they say, but too many people are leaving the workforce. The jobs numbers for April may look good, but we don’t know if this rate of growth can be sustained. Enrollment numbers for the Affordable Care Act may be impressive, but have all those people actually paid their premiums?

These are not honest caveats. Republican claims about enrollees not paying their insurance premiums, for example, are based on a survey taken before many of those premiums were even due. The GOP wants to foster the notion that nothing is going well with Democrats in charge of the White House and the Senate — and that it’s time for a change.

When Democrats sound like the old “Saturday Night Live” character Debbie Downer — emphasizing what’s still ailing about the economy, promising to “fix what’s broken” in Obamacare — they reinforce the Republicans’ message rather than refute it.

Listen up, Democrats. You fixed the economy. You expanded access to health care. Oh, and you ended two wars.

Show a little happiness. It’s contagious.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 5, 2014

May 6, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Election 2014 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hey Dems, Thinking About Not Voting In The Midterms?”: Here’s What Happens When The GOP Takes Over The Senate

Passing a federal law banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks. Defunding parts of Obamacare. Weakening the Environmental Protection Agency. Kneecapping the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Elizabeth Warren’s baby, the new agency within the Fed to police consumer fraud. And—maybe, just maybe—letting a Supreme Court seat sit vacant until after the next presidential election.

That’s just the start of what happens if the Republicans win back the Senate this November. Imagine, posits a top aide to Mitch McConnell, a steady stream of legislation, much of it conservative, that will force Barack Obama to start vetoing bills for essentially the first time in his presidency.

And imagine a Republican Congress, with an eye toward 2016, that could take a number of steps to make life harder for presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. First and foremost: continuing their investigations—indeed redoubling them—into the Benghazi tragedy.

Democrats have been feeling a wee bit better lately about this November. The Affordable Care Act is looking stronger. Southern incumbents like Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu have seen some friendlier poll numbers.

But the fact remains that the GOP has a decent to good shot at taking the Senate this fall. A brand new Washington Post/ABC poll splashed a little cold water across Democratic faces. It finds Obama’s approval at an all-time low in Post polls. More ominously, Republican respondents said they were planning on voting in far greater numbers than did Democrats. So this is a reality Democrats and liberals, like it or not, have to think about.

In recent weeks, I talked with a  broad range of Democratic senators and progressive insiders—and a few Republican and conservative ones—about this GOP future. Verdict: While most thought things would be worse, I was mildly surprised by the number who said that strangely enough, matters might actually improve a little. And I came away thinking that while Republicans in full control of Congress would obviously be well-positioned to tee things up for their presidential candidate, they’d more likely end up doing the opposite.

Yes, Things Can Get Worse

Let’s start with the bleak view. “If the Republicans win the Senate,” says Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, “the conclusion they’re going to draw is ‘obstruction works,’ and they’re going to double down on it. So they’ll be thinking, ‘Why go out of our way to do stuff and why compromise when in two years we can win it all?’”

Ornstein’s frequent collaborator, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, thinks that while it should make sense that Republicans eyeing a 2016 White House win would want to have some accomplishments to point to, we shouldn’t bet on it. “The interests of the party in ’16 are clear, but whether that proves sufficient to produce something positive out of the Republicans in Congress is a big reach,” says Mann. “They almost have an incentive to keep the economy going at a more tepid rate.”

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, agrees. “A GOP Senate takeover would be terrible for Obama’s presidency,” Tanden says. “It would spell the end of any progress on any legislative action and with GOP control of both houses of Congress, Republicans would set up debates to help their presidential candidates in 2016. And of course, investigations of the administration would double.”

What about the senators themselves? New York’s Chuck Schumer predicts: “It would let loose six years of right-wing frustration. The potential for gridlock is enormous.”

Two of his more liberal colleagues, Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, emphasized the huge change in priorities we’d see if Republicans were in control of the Senate calendar. That, after all, is one of the main things a Senate majority can do—decide what does and does not get to the floor for consideration. With Mitch McConnell or any other Republican in charge of that calendar instead of Harry Reid, the Senate becomes an entirely different body.

“Their whole effort is grounded in their contempt for government,” Brown says. “On Medicare, on Social Security, on consumer protection, on regulation of Wall Street… If you want to know what a wholly Republican Congress would do, the thing to do is to look at what they’ve done in state capitals where they can. In Ohio, they’ve gone after voters’ rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights. They’d bring that to Washington.”

Warren notes another aspect of majority control that doesn’t get as much attention as floor votes but is also important: what kind of work the committees do and don’t do. Committee hearings rarely have the drama of, say, Henry Waxman hauling those tobacco executives up to the Hill a few years ago. But they matter. Groundwork is laid for future legislation, and that happens because the majority gets to determine what the hearings are about as well as the bulk of the witness list.

Warren had a fresh example at the ready on the day I spoke to her. “Right now, I just came out of a hearing on payday lending,” Warren told me. The payday lenders, who charge usurious loan rates to people living paycheck to paycheck, are one of Warren’s top targets—but they have a powerful lobby, and Republicans generally do their bidding. “If Republicans get in charge of the Senate,” says Warren, “a hearing like that has no chance of happening. They’ll get to roll over the issues of importance to the American people.”

The Pressure to Govern

But here’s the counterintuitive view, expressed by several folks: If Republicans have full control of Congress, they won’t have Harry Reid to kick around anymore. In a divided Congress, each party can point its finger at the other and say: “Obstructionist!” But if one party is running the show, the responsibility for getting results falls entirely on that party’s shoulders.

“If I were a Republican looking forward to 2016, I would actually want to get a little something done,” says William Galston of Brookings. “And if the president has any desire for his last six years to be anything other than trench warfare over the ACA [Affordable Care Act, as the Obamacare law is officially known], then maybe he’ll want to do something, too.”

Several people I spoke with noted that we do have precedent for this, and it’s hardly ancient history. “The model is the late ’90s template,” says Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. “Maybe a little less cordial.”

Or a lot less. But he has a point. In the 1994 election, the GOP took over the House and the Senate. At first, Republicans under Bob Dole and especially Newt Gingrich threw everything they could at Bill Clinton. But after a short while, Gingrich softened, and he and Clinton did pass some things—a landmark budget, and welfare reform.

“When Newt took over, at first, they were awful revolutionaries,” says Jim Kessler of Third Way, the centrist Democratic group. “They passed things that went nowhere. It was a Bataan Death March to a dead end. Then with the shutdown [in early 1996] they went too far, and then they realized that to keep their majority they had to govern.”

Hence, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin’s advice to the president: “My recommendation immediately would be for President Obama to sit down with Clinton and ask him how he did it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.”

Having such a conversation couldn’t hurt. Bill Clinton is sitting on a library full of good political advice, and Obama should probably call him more often. But whether the Clinton-Gingrich model could be so easily transferred to Obama-Boehner—or, Lord help us, Obama-Cantor—is a wide open question. The parties are more dug in now than they were 15, 18 years ago, especially the Republicans. And they would probably think, as Norm Ornstein noted above, why should they play ball with 2016 coming? The best thing for them to do—in political terms, that is, albeit not for the country—is dig in, and drag down Obama’s poll numbers.

This would be the most effective way to harm Hillary Clinton, assuming she’s the Democratic choice in ’16. Says Bill Galston: “The most significant thing they can do to harm Hillary Clinton is to keep Obama’s approval numbers down. If you are running to succeed a two-term incumbent from your own party, you are in some sense running for his third term.”

There could be a few areas where agreement could be reached—for example, it might very well be in Republicans’ interest (with 2016 Latino voters in mind) to pass an immigration bill. On the other hand, they might not see it that way. They might see it as in their interest to try to paint Obama into a corner on immigration. And this raises the question of how the president would react to this new reality.

Can Obama Learn to Veto?

Here’s an undeniable truth that would flow from a fully Republican Congress. “Ironically,” says Don Stewart, a top aide to McConnell, “more legislation will actually pass, because we’ll just start passing things the House passed. Right now, Senator Reid’s main job is to be goaltender—to block President Obama from having to veto things.” To Stewart, Reid has prevented any number of bills that passed the House and could pass the Senate because “he wants the story to be ‘Republicans block.’ They’ve poison-pilled everything. We’ll take those out and pass things.” And then, what would Obama do?

This issue of the veto would surely be one of the main arenas of conflict if Republicans control both houses. Obama has vetoed less legislation than any president in modern history: just two bills, both in late 2010.  George W. Bush vetoed 12 (and he had a cooperative Congress for six of his eight years); Clinton issued 37; George H.W. Bush, 44 (in four years!); and Ronald Reagan, 78. To find a president who’s vetoed fewer bills than Obama, you have to go back to 1881 and James Garfield, who logged zero vetoes, in no small part because just 200 days into his presidency, he was assassinated.

Obama hasn’t broken out his veto pen, says Robert Borosage of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, because he hasn’t really wanted to be seen as confrontational. Let Reid and McConnell or Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner tear each others’ flesh; he’s wanted to float above that. With a wholly GOP Congress, says Borosage, that dynamic ends: “It dramatically forces the president to do something he’s never wanted to do, which is to define himself as a pole in the debate and be willing to stand up and veto things. That’s so against his character.”

But if this scenario comes to pass, he’ll have to veto. The Republicans will send him budgets and other bills with little—or big—poison pills. “With a Republican Senate, all kinds of things are going to reach his desk,” says Bill Samuel of the AFL-CIO. “There’ll be bills he needs to sign—funding the Defense Department, say—that they can add all kinds of malicious things to.”

To Grover Norquist, this is precisely the plan. Norquist doesn’t see major showdowns in the offing—just a series of minor ones that would nevertheless establish GOP priorities on the budget process, on the bet that the veto-shy Obama wouldn’t really change his stripes. “Lots of little things would slip in, and that’s the difference,” Norquist says. “Riders on appropriations. New EPA rules. Just make a list of everything he’s done by executive order and undo it by law in appropriations bills and make Obama sign or veto it.”

This circles us back to immigration. It seems far more likely that rather than pass a bill Obama could happily sign, Republicans would pass one he’d rather not sign—one without a path to citizenship, say—and box him in politically. “You could come up with an immigration reform that Obama would have a very hard time vetoing,” Norquist argues. “DREAMers, border security, STEM, and legal status. If you’re Obama, do you really want to say no to that?”

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform America’s Voice, thinks that “the Republican dream of passing an immigration bill that puts Democrats in a pickle is a fantasy,” in large part because there are too many divisions within the GOP on the issue, divisions that will only be highlighted as their presidential contenders take center stage. Sharry might be right about that. But McConnell is nothing if not cagey. If he wins re-election and becomes majority leader, we can be sure he’ll think of plenty of ways to try to force Obama to accept GOP priorities, especially on budgetary matters, or issue a veto that would be difficult for some red-state Democrats to defend.

The GOP Policy Agenda: Look out ACA, CFPB, and Contraception

Political gamesmanship aside, there’s the question of what actual Republican policy priorities might be. Here’s where the liberal activists really get nervous.

Almost certainly, Republicans would pass bills with items similar to what’s been in the budgets written by Paul Ryan over the past few years: reducing Pell grants, food stamps, money for renewable energy. They’d target the EPA, as Norquist suggested, and they’d almost surely go after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency created by Dodd-Frank that reins in the bad practices of banks and other lenders. They’d try to change the oversight of the CFPB, giving business interests more control, or take it out from under the Federal Reserve Bank, where it’s now housed, which could reduce its authority.

This list could go on and on, but let’s look at just one issue area—contraception and reproductive rights. Right now, according to Donna Crane, the vice president for policy at NARAL-ProChoice America, the GOP House has passed or could quickly pass four bills that a Republican Senate would presumably endorse too:

*A law that would make it a federal crime for an adult to accompany a teen across state lines for an abortion and hold doctors liable for knowing that. “Think about that,” Crane says. “This would be the first time we’ve ever made a person carry their state with them, so to speak.”

*A law to ban abortion coverage in all state health-care insurance exchanges.

*A law to ban abortions after 20 weeks with an exception only for the life of the mother. This, Crane notes, has already passed the House.

*A law to end the contraception benefit in the ACA.

And speaking of Obamacare, what about that? It’s not clear Senate Republicans would even waste their time on repeal. That, they know Obama would veto in an instant. Don Stewart, of McConnell’s office, says they’ll go after specific items like doing away with the medical device tax, which appears to have 60 votes in the Senate right now.

AEI’s Nick Eberstadt muses: “The tactical opposition would be to starve the ACA by budgetary means. What happens if Congress doesn’t pass the health budget the president requests? That would be clarifying.”

It’s not clear just yet the extent to which that would be possible. The big-money portions of Obamacare—the Medicaid expansion, most notably—would have to be changed via legislation, which won’t happen as long as a Democrat is president. But smaller parts of the bill are subject to the appropriations process. “My gut sense is that the GOP won’t be able to truly destroy ACA,” says Harold Pollack, a health policy expert at the University of Chicago who had input into the law. “But they will have some success in cutting expenditures required to properly implement ACA and in generally making things nasty for the administration.”

And Finally, Looking Toward 2016

There’s more that I haven’t covered. Two big matters in particular: the filibuster, and presidential nominations. How would McConnell, if he’s majority leader, change the filibuster rules? Would he try to make it apply to fewer situations, so he could pass bills with 51 Republicans and just a few Democrats for cover? And what about nominations, especially judicial ones? Imagine, for example, that Ruth Bader Ginsburg were to retire in 2015. Would a GOP Senate even give her successor a hearing? And assuming it would, just how conservative a jurist would Obama have to nominate to get through a Senate that’s in Republican hands? I asked nearly everyone I interviewed this question, and while there wasn’t unanimity, there was a clear consensus that it wouldn’t be surprising to see the GOP give a nominee a hearing but sit on the vote, leaving the Supreme Court with only eight members until we see who wins the presidency.

And what of oversight and investigations? A Republican Senate could try to keep the Benghazi attack in the headlines until the day Hillary Clinton gives her acceptance speech, and beyond. This point underscores the extent to which 2016 hovers over everything discussed in this article. If the Republicans move into the Senate’s majority offices in the Capitol next January, they’ll be doing so at a time when the party’s 2016 nominee will start being more public in their intentions.

A Congress wholly controlled by the opposition party has plenty of ways it can help its presidential contenders. It can pass constructive legislation, it can pass “positioning” legislation that attempts to checkmate the other party; it also has the simple ability to help keep favorable issues in the news and unfavorable ones out.

But remember this: Legislators don’t take votes thinking about their presidential candidate’s career. They take votes thinking about their own careers, as Third Way’s Jim Kessler observes: “Congressional Republicans will do what they think is best for them to keep their majority in the House and the Senate. Legislative bodies are selfish, and they rarely sacrifice for others. They’d like a Republican president, but that’s a luxury.”

That’s exactly right. To return to Gingrich: He decided that passing welfare reform was in his caucus’ interest. Doing so took a big club out of Bob Dole’s hands. But that’s politics. Now, in the present day, passing immigration reform would probably help a GOP nominee. But legislators would have to decide: Would it help them? So far they haven’t thought so. Legislators will do what they think will help them. If it helps the nominee, great. If it doesn’t, too bad. And remember, many of these legislators represent deep-red districts and states, which probably don’t add up to more than 200 electoral votes—70 shy of what it takes to win.

And so, even if Republicans gain more power on the Hill, they may find that that power, and the imperative of keeping it, makes 2016 an even steeper climb than it already seems against Clinton. But that shouldn’t be much comfort for Democrats. A Republican Senate won’t be able to undo the president’s signature achievement, but it’ll take as many bites as it can out of what Obama has accomplished in the last six years. And trust me, those bite will hurt.

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 30, 2014


May 2, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Election 2014, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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