Will The Mid-Term Elections Make Any Policy Difference? (Forbes.com) November 3, 2014Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
Tags: Public Policy
As a Californian in a state so tilted in one political direction that few bother to run ads here, I am spared what a friend from Wisconsin, a major battleground state, describes as an endless barrage of political ads and messages this year. It will soon be over, but will it have made any difference? Will the politics of the 2014 mid-term elections bring about any major changes in the policies that govern us? Sadly, I tend to think it will ultimately be much ado about relatively little.
Even if Republicans make gains in the House and establish a slight majority in the Senate, the election will largely shift government gridlock, rather than end it. Instead of Congress doing virtually nothing, as has been the case this year, Congress will begin passing bills again, only to see them land with a thud on the President’s desk. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said over the weekend that “a new Republican majority…would mean we’d be able to bring the current legislative gridlock to a merciful end.” But that assumes that Congress will pass bills that the President would want to sign; otherwise, they die in the Oval Office.
So the real question is this: what are the chances that a Republican Congress and a Democrat President could find significant areas of agreement in Obama’s final two years? It is certainly possible that President Obama will take a page from Fleetwood Mac and “go [his] own way.” He consistently says he wants to be a consequential president, which suggests that playing small ball with Republicans is not a likely scenario. And he’s already signaled plans to tackle one of the big policy issues, immigration, by executive order, hardly a collaborative approach. So one very realistic prospect is that Obama will not find collaborating with Republicans on policy changes to suit his political or historic agenda and we will face more executive orders and gridlock.
But what might a Republican Congress and a Democratic President do together if they were so inclined? I suppose they could tackle immigration, for example. The President says he wants a comprehensive plan and Republicans want to do piecemeal reform, but let’s assume they could get past that. The difficulty with immigration reform is that everyone wants to do what they find important first. Republicans want to strengthen border security first. Business leaders want to improve legal immigration for workers first. Liberals want to deal with children and others who are already here first. That’s where immigration reform is stuck—no one trusts the other parties to get to their issue unless theirs is first in line. I think that will be harder to resolve than one might think.
Healthcare, the other big domestic policy priority, seems even less likely to produce agreement between Congress and the President. The Republican House has voted 54 times to repeal or tweak Obamacare, but obviously the President won’t be signing anything of that sort. Even Mitch McConnell acknowledged to Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that major changes to Obamacare “would take a Presidential signature. No one thinks we’re going to get that.”
How about foreign policy? Unfortunately for a new Republican majority in Congress, this is an area where the President leads, not the Congress. Congress could try to end the sequester cuts in defense spending, as one measure, but the White House has taken the view that non-defense cuts should also be addressed, so it’s hard to see the President going along with Republicans here either.
If I had to bet, I would see President Obama spending his final two years in the following way, no matter who wins on Tuesday: appointing lots of federal judges, raising a lot of money for the 2016 elections, making political appointments and providing pardons, delivering speeches, and issuing executive orders. If true, that means we will see little change in policy from all the politics of 2014, and merely a shift in gridlock from the halls of Congress to the President’s desk. All Republicans probably gain is a better platform for their ideas. In the end, the politics of 2014 may be little more than foreshadowing and repositioning for the politics of 2016.