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Monday, November 10, 2014

THE U.S. CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION


The votes are counted and the Republican Party has gained control of the U.S. Senate, increased its majority in the House of Representatives and won numerous state governorships across the nation.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has again publically demonstrated her microscopic intellect by proclaiming “…..it will mean the end of civilization as we know it.” Since there have been few noticeable runs on food, guns and ammunition, nor are citizens fortifying their homes in anticipation of social chaos, Pelosi seems to once again to be speaking from her very own alternate universe.
But what actually happened?  Obama refuses to take the blame.  He first said it was simply “the map” i.e. a large number of the Senate races were in traditionally conservative states. But these states had elected Democrats in 2008 with help from Obama’s “coat tails”.  Then Obama used the time worn excuse that “We didn’t do a good job of getting our message out.”  But the excitement of “Hope and Change” in 2008 was exposed as the hollow platitude that it was by a coat tail snipping perception of confusion and incompetence over the next eight years which was itself the “message” about Democratic governance.   
Other Democrats and their supporters in the liberal pundit world have blamed the enormity of the loss on the low turnout of the traditional liberal support groups; young voters, single women, minorities, illegal aliens and dead people in Chicago.  But they don’t address the obvious question of “why did these groups stay home”?  Again it is the inescapable conclusion that Obama and his supporters in the Congress were leading the nation on the “wrong track” (66% Rasmussen poll, week ending Nov.2).  Different individuals and groups have different issues underlying this statistic.  The most significant in terms of disapproval has consistently been the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) which affects everyone and which has never had majority public support since 2009.  Confusion, inconsistency and ineptitude in foreign policy has angered both the Left and the Right (Iran, Benghazi, ISIS).  Political cowardice with respect to the approval or rejection of the Keystone Pipeline has had a similar bi-partisan effect as has the proliferation of Obama Administration scandals (VA health care; IRS, NSA domestic electronic surveillance). 
Actually, the election results could have several short term positive effects. It will move current hyper-partisan and pugnacious Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from the podium to the bleachers where he will no longer have control over the Senate’s agenda. Second, it will allow Republican initiatives in the House to gain a hearing, and probable support, in the Senate.  Legislation passed by both houses of Congress becomes law if the President signs it.  Obama would be faced with using his veto to maintain his ideological loyalty to the far Left of his party or giving up his claim that he is saddled with a “do nothing Congress” and “It is all the Republicans fault”.  Faced with an array of new Republican sponsored legislation and blocking it all with vetoes, he could become the “do nothing President”.
So what could, maybe or should,  a Republican Congress do in the two years before the end of the Obama presidency and the 2016 national elections? 
Obamacare as the focus of much criticism and general unpopularity, which was verified in the mid-term election, will be one focus of attention.  Calls to repeal the entire act have been a part of the Republican congressional caucus mantra for several years.  This goal can still be heard in the post-election discussion.  However, the Republican leaders in the new Congress, as well as everyone else in the caucus, know with certainty that wholesale repeal is not possible nor politically wise given the large number of people who would lose their new health insurance policies, whether they like them or not.  The Democrats in the Senate can still filibuster any repeal legislation to death and the additional certainty of an Obama veto serves as a back-up.  However, the two thousand plus page bill created several bureaucratic sub-agencies with limited accountability as well as other restrictions on choice of providers, and  provisions which run up the costs to premium payers, which can and should be changed. Some congressional Democrats and even Obama himself has spoken about the possibility of reform.  Because of the broad lack of approval of Obamacare as a whole among voters, legislation to do this has a decent chance of coming out of the new Congress. President Obama should be hesitant to veto “fixes” to this unpopular program.
“Comprehensive” immigration reform is another “hot button” issue which Obama has made even more controversial with his threat to bypass Congress and change the law by Executive Order by the end of the calendar year unless the current Congress presents him with a bill that satisfies his own preferences.  This is unlikely because the new Republican majority Congress doesn’t take office until January, 2015.   With the Democrats still in control of the Senate until then, the prospects for a compromise on such a bill are very low.  Republicans will be under pressure to pass a bill soon after the new Congress takes office in January to offset  Obama’s arbitrary and possibly unconstitutional action.  He then will be under pressure to sign such a bill if it has broad political support across the nation.  However, as a “lame duck” president in the final two years in office he doesn’t seem to be seeking public approval, an attitude, along with the public’s perception of general incompetence, that was a significant factor in the Republican sweep in the mid-term election.
Other possible/probable legislative initiatives which have been on the Republican wish list include the following:
Tax reform;  Congressional Republicans in general, support lowering the corporate income tax rate to internationally competitive levels. Democrats have made the very word “corporations” an ideologically based pejorative, using it as the basis for ridiculous class warfare conspiracy theories. However, if tax reduction legislation includes closing tax loopholes for corporations it might generate enough Democrat support in the new Congress to be viable. 
Reform of the entire tax code is also a possibility with such things as a “flat tax” vs. the current progressive rate structure, and overall simplification being the most mentioned.
“Fast Track” trade authority which the President wants and which allows him to negotiate trade agreements with the Congress limited to an up or down vote without amendments is a possibility although  unions and their liberal supporters are opposed.

 Infrastructure spending has support among Republicans and has been a constant talking point for Obama and Democrats.

 But there are several issues which are part of the ideological divide which Republican should not hesitate to address and force the president to confront.  Government spending and the related astronomical government debt should be a priority.   These could include:

1.  Cutting all government bureaucracies administrative staffs through attrition by some fixed percentage.

2.  Review and cut selected government agricultural subsidies and crop deferral programs.

3. Review and set an independent oversight board for all research grants.

4. Require all Cabinet Secretaries to review and justify all sub-cabinet agencies within their departments.

5. Make Food Stamps (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).) applications part of federal tax returns to ensure eligibility and make vendors obligated by law to verify the identity of users. Limit use to basic food stuffs and make transfer illegal and punishable by loss of eligibility.

 Republicans will be tempted to push through a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.  An overly simple requirement would be a dangerous requirement by requiring huge immediate cuts which could be recklessly applied.  A staged process based on some objective criteria like a percentage of GDP would be more easily applied. This however would be a long process if even possible, with the requirement of a two thirds vote in both houses of Congress and then approval  by three fourths (38) of state legislatures.  After the election, thirty-three states have Republican governors; twenty-three states have a Republican governor and a Republican controlled legislature.  Only seven states are controlled by Democrats.

 Calls for the impeachment of Obama, even if he pursues possible unconstitutional abuse of Executive Orders would be politically foolish and counter productive.  The votes are probably there in the House which initially votes by simple majority to pass a bill of Impeachment, but Speaker John Boehner has expressed his opposition to introducing such a bill.  The “trial” following the indictment-like impeachment bill occurs in the Senate which also requires a two thirds vote for removal which the Republicans are far from having. Other than being an historical embarrassment for the President, it would further divide the nation and be the subject of accusations of racism when the American people yearn for some level of bi-partisanship and relief from political gridlock. 

 Political leaders on both sides agree that the election gives the Republican Party an opportunity to change their greatly diminished “brand” in a way that will sustain their electoral support and provide an enhanced possibility for success in the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.  This will require a real effort to come together to produce realistic solutions to the nation’s problems and reignite some level of optimism in the electorate.  Some measure of moderation will be critical, keeping in mind that Obama has the power of the veto and approximately one third of the electorate are Independents.
 

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