Chris Beem
Beltway predictions

Feel free to play along

By - Apr 17th, 2010 04:00 am
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So now that health care reform is passed, things are going to settle down a little on the Hill, right?  We’ll go from clown car crazy back to just typical crazy.

Yeah, not so much. Why? Because this is an election year.

The Democrats are worried — alright, not worried, apoplectic — about their majorities and their own jobs. Even way up in Wisconsin, you can smell the fear. The Republicans are worried, too, worried that the Tea Party folk will not fall in line, that they will challenge safe seats from the right and thereby scuttle their plans to retake control. So nothing is going to settle down any time soon. Between now and the August recess, everything that happens will be about positioning for the election in November. So, let’s play along with the latest inside-the-beltway game: What’s going to happen the rest of this year?

The Democrats are still in control, at least until November, so they set the agenda. And even without the filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, they still have better odds than they have had in decades, and certainly better than they are likely to see in 2011. They could throw caution and their political futures to the wind and try to do push through major climate change legislation.

I hope they do. It would be an achievement surpassing even health care reform, one for which generations to come would thank us. But I’m not holding my breath. Future generations don’t get a vote. Among those now living, passing climate change legislation would do nothing to enhance Democrats’ chances. More’s the pity, but the best chance for cap and trade has come and gone.

So what will they do?

The most obvious answer is jobs. If come November unemployment continues to hover around 10 percent, the Democrats are toast, and they know it. If, on the other hand, more people are able to land jobs, more Democrats will be able to keep theirs. So they will try to find relatively inexpensive ways to push the recovery ahead of schedule. The bill passed earlier this year, offering payroll tax breaks to employers hiring new workers, is an example of what we are likely to see. Republicans are expected to block those bills because they add to a bloated deficit. Democrats are happy to have that fight; they think it will help them in November.

Democrats also want to fight over the next big issue, Wall Street Reform. The House passed its bill way back in December and the Senate bill will soon make it to the floor. It appears that the Republicans will argue that the bill will lead to more government bailouts. Democrats will cast any Republican opposition to regulation and oversight as support for Wall Street “Fat Cats.” The Democrats think they have the better argument, and that the nation will support them. I think they are right. If anything, I wouldn’t be surprised if an unrelenting populist anger moved the bill farther to the left.

The really interesting question is Immigration Reform. Like health care, this is another perennial issue. Sure, it’s a crisis, but when has it not been a crisis? So why bring it up now? Because Democrats think the issue creates a nasty dilemma for Republicans.

On the one hand, the Tea Party crowd hates the idea of amnesty and will push hard against anyone who supports it. Don’t forget that Joe Wilson’s scream of “you lie!” was in response to Obama’s claim that health care would not be available to illegal immigrants. On the other side is the United States’ largest and fastest growing minority group. Latinos brought tens of thousands of people to Washington last month in support of Immigration Reform. They are feeling their oats, and know that they can single-handedly turn elections. So which group will the Republicans antagonize? That question makes Democrats smile.

Just this week, Harry Reid (whose own reelection chances are gloomy at best) said that immigration reform will not be on the agenda before Memorial Day. That may be because his Senate colleagues made him throttle back from earlier comments. But I bet it’s about timing. The Democrats want to take this issue up right before the election. All the better to spur Latinos to
the polls, make Republicans sweat and maybe help Reid pull his own seat out of the fire.

Add to this mix the wild card of a Supreme Court confirmation. Depending on who Obama nominates and how the Republicans react, the Senate hearings could  be a non-event, or they could blow up, sending strategists back to the drawing board and (saints preserve us) further undermining an already decimated partisan climate.

In fact, like most beltway predictions, these will likely  be swamped by events that nobody could have predicted. But it’s fun anyway. Feel free to play along.

Categories: Politics

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