By Diego Quezada
After Tuesday’s election, the balance of power remains unchanged in Washington: the Democrats will control the White House and the Senate, and the Republicans still have a sizable majority in the House. New York Times columnist David Brooks predicted Oct. 29 that a second President Barack Obama term would start off with a stalemate on the fiscal cliff. House Republicans wouldn’t budge on a Grand Bargain because they’d feel worried about a primary challenge, dooming any hopes for immigration reform or any other bipartisan efforts. Brooks said, “Obama himself is not going to suddenly turn into a master legislative craftsman on the order of Lyndon Johnson.”
I’m not buying that. I’m optimistic about a second Obama term, and the next two years won’t look like the last two.
I won’t speculate what will happen during the lame-duck session. Perhaps the House Republicans remain intransigent, and the Bush tax cuts will expire for everyone Jan. 1, 2013. Perhaps they don’t. But since Joe Biden said Nov. 7 that Democrats have a mandate on tax policy, it appears likely that tax rates will rise for the richest Americans sooner or later.
For one, the Senate will be more liberal. Jim Webb and Joe Liberman are gone, and Tim Kaine, Tammy Baldwin, Chris Murphy and Elizabeth Warren are in. Harry Reid signaled Wednesday that he plans to pursue filibuster reform so 60 votes aren’t necessary for every piece of legislation.
Unburdened with the filibuster, the Democratic-controlled Senate could go along with a host of Obama’s initiatives and isolate his opponents in the House. Obama hinted at some of his priorities in his victory speech. In addition to comprehensive immigration reform, he said, “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
Speaker John Boehner can continue with his obstinacy, but a diverse coalition gave Obama a significant Electoral College victory and will put pressure on him to compromise. The House could conceivably stand as the one entity blocking efforts to combat climate change, campaign finance reform or gun control. House Republicans may buckle on certain issues like immigration to appeal to the nation’s growing Latino population. Obama won’t accomplish all of his agenda items in his second term, but a bolstered Senate will enable him to continue to build on his impressive list of domestic accomplishments.