Smaller majority could deepen deadlock

March 21, 2010


— As congressional Democrats plotted their end-game strategy for health care reform, the question looming in their minds was: How do we reduce our risks in the November midterm elections? What outcome and what procedures will the voters find least objectionable?

The widespread assumption is that the worst-case scenario, the outcome that would be most damaging to President Obama and the party, would be to lose control of the House or Senate, or both.

But there is another view — one that believes it would be more damaging if the Democrats emerge with reduced numbers but the same leadership, still nominally in control but with less capacity to overcome the entrenched partisanship prevailing in Congress.

This alternative view looks back 16 years to the election that stripped the Democrats of their majority at the end of the second year of the Clinton administration. The 1994 results were widely seen at the time as a complete repudiation of Bill Clinton’s first two years in office, marked by the failure of his effort at health care reform. A wounded president even had to argue that he was still “relevant” to the Washington political process.

But only two years later, in 1996, Clinton coasted to a second term over Bob Dole and was able to brag that he had signed into law measures reforming welfare and putting the country on the path to a balanced budget.

What happened is that Clinton and the newly installed House speaker, Newt Gingrich, after testing their muscle against each other in all-out combat in 1995, decided it was better for both of them to negotiate agreements in 1996.

The story is told in full in “The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation,” by political scientist Steven M. Gillon.

As Gillon noted, the 1996 election made Clinton the first Democrat since FDR to win a second-term, and Gingrich the first Republican speaker since 1928 to see his party win two successive majorities in Congress. “Both men felt the election results justified their strategies.”

“The election outcome,” he continued, “underscored how the two men had influenced and shaped each other in ways that neither fully appreciated. Clinton campaigned against a cartoon version of Gingrich even as he adopted much of his agenda. Gingrich, who came to office promising a revolution, retained control of the Congress by practicing moderation. They found themselves closer to each other, and further from the ideological fringe of their respective parties, than ever before.”

So close, in fact, that they secretly discussed moving on to reform of Social Security and Medicare in 1997 — until Monica happened and everything was blocked by the fight over impeachment.

Could history repeat? Today’s congressional Republican majorities are even more emphatically conservative than those of Gingrich’s day, but the Republican leaders are pragmatic politicians from competitive states, Kentucky and Ohio, who are clearly capable of bending with the wind. Sobered by the responsibility of being in the majority, neither Mitch McConnell nor John Boehner is likely to persist solely in the politics of saying “No.”

As for Obama, we now know, if we did not before, that he is most comfortable in the middle ground between the liberal wing of his own party and the bulk of Republicans, freed by his brief personal history in Washington from the historic antagonisms that impede dealings between the parties.

Obviously, there are risks in divided government, and stalemate is possible. But it is certainly arguable that the greater risk — of deadlock and inaction — might be in returning Nancy Pelosi to the speakership and Harry Reid to the majority leadership, but with fewer Democrats in each chamber ready to muscle things through.

Keep that in mind as you watch Democrats and Republicans maneuver through these latest steps on the tortuous trail to health care reform.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. davidbroder@washpost.com


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years ago

As bad as the Dems have been, what's making them suck so much is the same corruption, albeit a "lite" version, that afflicts the Repugs.

So an increased presence of Repugs back in Washington will be nothing be a leap out of the pan and into the fire.

Maybe I'll just jam an icepick into my forehead-- it might bring a little bit of relief.

Flap Doodle 8 years ago

Take photos if you do that, bozo. Get somebody to post them.

independant1 8 years ago

And a tortuous trail to health care reform it is indeed. This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer. Will Rogers

Richard Heckler 8 years ago

Anyway you look at it the cost of medical insurance premiums and pharmaceuticals is also funding a great deal of corruption. IMPROVED Medicare Insurance for ALL would reduce this arm of corruption substantially.

Broder is not the almighty political guru after all. Considering the long history and long list of high crimes and other objectionable actions the repubs have presented to the public since the Nixon WATERGATE escapade. Nixon set the stage which set Reagan/Bush off and running.

The republican party has deep embedded history of high crimes and unethical history. Broder like wayyyyy too many voters have memory problems.

This brief reminder barely scratches the surface:

Think about it. In the past 30 years the repub party has been in involved two major home loan scandals that effectively took the USA economy down the tubes. One is too damn many but twice represents repub economic policy. Wreckanomics is a failed economic policy. In fact wreckanomics is beginning to smell like well planned crimes.

The republican party have become masters at putting millions upon millions upon millions of people out of work. AND stealing taxpayers retirement plans along the way.

What Repubs do with a remarkable degree of consistency is wreck the economy,initiate huge movements of shipping jobs abroad aka the Reagan-Bush Global Economy and try to wreck social security and medicare.

Richard Heckler 8 years ago

Is there a definite pattern? Absolutely!

  1. The Reagan/ Bush Home Loan Scandal http://rationalrevolution0.tripod.com/war/bush_family_and_the_s.htm

  2. The Bush/Cheney Home Loan Scandal http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

  3. What did Bush and Henry Paulson do with the bail out money? http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/10/good_billions_after_bad_one_year

  4. Why did GW Bush Lie About Social Security?( This would cost taxpayers $4 trillion and wreck the economy) http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2005/0505orr.html

  5. Still A Bad Idea – Bush Tax Cuts http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2001/0301miller.html

  6. The "tea parties" BTW are part of the wreckanomics program funded by the Koch Brothers... well known oil billionaires. These thinkers back a tax payers bill of rights which is another scheme to reward the upper 1% which is designed to wreck local and state governments. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2005/0705rebne.html

All of the above displays reckless economic behavior that which drains the cookie jars.

What do Reagan,Bush and Bush republicans plan for 2010. Start the typical repub character assassination campaign which in essence is a massive cover-up scheme for the financial disasters that illustrate how the repubs are NOT the financial giants of our time.

independant1 8 years ago

All you know is what you read in the newspaper.

I read eight newpapers a da. Once I was in a town with just one newpaper, I read it eight times. Will Rogers

purplesage 8 years ago

Bill Clinton's two terms in offfice are a testimony to how a 3rd party candidate with a significant following affects national elections. Ross Perot had more effect on the U.S. as a candidate than the nearly forgotten Reform Party candidate is credited. Without Perot, there would probably been a second term for GHWB and the Clinton victory, described in this article as coasting, was about 9%. Keep in mind Perot got 8% of the vote. In both cases, he certainly siphoned off more Republican than Democrat votes. Without the Reform Party's flash in the pan, history may have been remarkably different.

Richard Heckler 8 years ago

Moreover, tax dollars also pay for critical elements of the health care system apart from direct care—Medicare funds much of the expensive equipment hospitals use, for instance, along with all medical residencies.

All told, then, tax dollars already pay for at least $1.2 trillion in annual U.S. health care expenses. Since federal, state, and local governments collected approximately $3.5 trillion in taxes of all kinds—income, sales, property, corporate—in 2006, that means that more than one third of the aggregate tax revenues collected in the United States that year went to pay for health care for about 60% of those insured.

Recognizing these hidden costs that U.S. households pay for health care today makes it far easier to see how a universal single-payer system—with all of its obvious advantages—can cost most Americans less than the one we have today.

Medicare must exist in the fragmented world that is American health care—but no matter how creative the opponents of single-payer get, there is no way they can show convincingly how the administrative costs of a single-payer system could come close to the current level.

More on this matter: http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2008/0508harrison.html =============================================== IMPROVED Medicare Insurance for ALL http://www.healthcare-now.org/

Health Care In the USA http://www.dollarsandsense.org/healthcare.html

Doctors for Single Payer http://www.pnhp.org/

independant1 8 years ago

Finally, something intelligent posted here!

Politics is applesauce. Will Rogers

independant1 8 years ago

I am a Democrat, I don't belong to any organized political party. Will Rogers

independant1 8 years ago

wouldn't plato say follow the argument wherever it may lead? Je suis vieux anarchiste

itwasthedukes 8 years ago

Observe the politicians getting beaten back by our glorious Constitution. Remember the Constitution is in the center not the right or left. Everyone needs to know this and cling to it at time like these, ours is the longest standing Constitution on earth. Stop arguing left or right it is a waste of time right now the issue is separation of power.

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