For Obama, loss of the Senate could be freeing

7/5/14
 
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by Dana Milbank,

from The Washington Post,
7/4/14:

The walls seem to be closing in on the Obama presidency.

No wonder this bear wants to break loose. And maybe he will — if Republicans take control of the Senate.

Crazy talk, you say? Maybe so. The prevailing view is that a Republican Senate would only compound Obama’s woes by bottling up confirmations, doubling the number of investigations and chipping away at Obamacare and other legislative achievements.

Yet there’s a chance that having an all-Republican Congress would help Obama — and even some White House officials have wondered privately whether a unified Republican Congress would be better than the current environment. Republicans, without Harry Reid to blame, would own Congress — a body that inspires a high level of confidence in just 7 percent of Americans, according to a Gallup survey last month finding Congress at a new low and at the bottom of all institutions tested.

There would be no more excuses for Republicans’ failure to put forward their own health-care plan, immigration proposals, specific cuts to popular government programs, and pet causes involving abortion, birth control and gay rights. This would set up real clashes with Obama — who could employ the veto pen he hasn’t used a single time since Republicans gained control of the House in 2010 — and sharp contrasts that would put him on the winning side of public opinion.

It is not hard to imagine a Republican takeover of the Senate causing conservatives in both chambers to overreach. House Republicans would get more pressure from their base to take a swing at impeachment, because the odds of convicting Obama in the Senate would be better (if still prohibitive). Alternatively, Republican leaders, recognizing that the public will hold them responsible now that they have complete control of Congress, might try to compromise with Obama.

In the first scenario, marauding conservatives drive Republicans to oblivion in 2016 and beyond, putting Hillary Clinton in the White House. In the second scenario, Obama actually accomplishes something in his last two years.

Of course, there is a third scenario, in which a Republican Senate majority only makes Obama miserable. Norm Ornstein , Congress watcher nonpareil, predicts Republicans would halt executive-branch confirmations, leaving the administration weak and understaffed. Remaining staffers would be hamstrung as they try to comply with a new wave of congressional subpoenas. And Republicans may content themselves simply to keep the legislative process shut. “Luring them into a further layer of craziness has advantages,” Ornstein said, but “the danger for Obama is what resonates with the public is he’s the president: Why the hell can’t he get it done?”

I hold out hope that a Congress under unified Republican control might react the way it did during Bill Clinton’s presidency, producing a balanced budget and welfare reform. But if Republicans don’t take seriously their responsibility to govern, they’ll find the Senate even less governable than it is today. Democrats would still have more than enough votes to block legislation with filibusters — as the Republican minority did in the last two years of Bush’s presidency.

But hopefully Democrats would let some of the more egregious proposals reach Obama’s desk. Of the 2,564 presidential vetoes since 1789, this president has issued only two, both over obscure issues. More exercise of the veto pen could strengthen Obama’s weak hand.

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