I think it’s pretty safe to say that any major legislation that hasn’t passed already is absolutely dead in the water. Cap and trade? Forget about it. Card check? No way. A second stimulus. Nope. And looking back, I’m really happy that health care reform passed when it did, because the Dems would have gotten clobbered either way. At least we still have that.
So what do we have to look forward to then?
The way I see it, the brand new House Republican majority has two basic options: punt or blitz.
In the punt scenario, the GOP can just sit back and quietly block any major pieces of Obama’s agenda, but not mount a serious fight against current legacy problems. No government shutdowns. No new major policy initiatives. No serious budget stare-downs. Just throw enough red meat at the base to keep them happy, but not enough to draw a bunch of attention to yourself (maybe some hearings on how Al Gore made up global warming).
In this scenario, the GOP would basically hope to survive 2012 by not taking ownership of what looks like a still pretty weak economy in 2012. Based on the latest Fed projections, we’ll still be looking at ~7.5% unemployment in two years, which might be enough to drag down Obama.
The problem with this strategy would be keeping the caucus in line. The class of 2010 has some pretty motivated freshman with Tea Party sentiments that may not want to sit on the sidelines while things drag on. If this is the path the GOP chooses, watch for a disgruntled GOP caucus stepping out of line here and there.
In the blitz scenario, the GOP would launch a major oppositional agenda and put it center stage, with big time fights between Speaker Boehner and President Obama dominating the media. This would be 1995 all over again. Budget showdowns and the whole kit and kaboodle (maybe even an impeachment!).
The problem with this strategy is it gives a clear foil for Obama, which he didn’t have during 2010. It was very hard for Democrats to differentiate themselves from Republicans when they were in the majority. The thing to keep in mind is that the Republicans still are not very popular. This was more a “not-Democrat” wave than it was a Republican one. If the GOP serves its agenda up as a target it will get wrecked by Obama. In an Obama v. Boehner fight, I pick Obama every time.
So what’ll they choose? My money’s on punt, but I’m hoping for the blitz.
The real wildcard here is what Obama does in response. He can try to force the GOP into either of these roles.
The one thing that seems extremely unlikely is that there’s actually some meaningful compromises that happen on major policies during the 112th Congress. Not that I wouldn’t welcome it, but color me skeptical.
(Which is sad, by the way.)
The first real test of this will be the lame duck tax cut fight. If the GOP brings the noise and mounts a full blown fight creating an impasse, signs point to blitz. If they agree on a temporary extension, signs point to punt.
I can’t wait.