Today’s Courier Herald Column:
With 11 days until we count the votes on this election, the national polls are generally in a dead heat. While the Real Clear Politics electoral map appears to favor President Obama, the movement towards Mitt Romney since the first debate has been somewhat stunning. At this point, it’s a virtual toss-up.
As in most elections that remain this tight so close to Election Day, supporters on both sides see victory within their grasp. On November 7th, roughly half of the country will be elated. The other half will be extremely disappointed.
With campaign cycles now perpetual, the signs of future gridlock in Washington seem apparent regardless which party controls the White House. While Republicans still have an outside chance to take control of the Senate, that potential is looking more doubtful by the day. Most scenarios at this point have the Republicans maintaining the House and Democrats holding the Senate. The White House, as noted, remains a coin toss. We’re likely in for at least two more years of divided government.
The lame duck session will deal with our tax code, budget sequestration, the debt ceiling, and the farm bill extension at a minimum. Bigger and more permanent solutions will likely follow. The President, whoever he is, will have to figure out how to work with Congress to move an agenda. With a divided Congress, this will be no easy task regardless who occupies the White House.
Should President Obama prevail, it is hard to imagine how things will be different. The President can rightfully claim some sort of mandate, no matter how small. But another “working together” photo-op with Republican leaders with the President saying “I won” would likely be greeted by Republican House leaders saying “we did too”. As noted in Bob Woodward’s most recent book, the President doesn’t have the close relationships with members of Congress to help smooth out the rough edges.
Those relationships would normally help him not only win over the occasional Republican but to earn the trust of Congressional members of his own party when a deal must be cut. Congressional Republicans will have just validated their “hold the line” approach returned them as a House majority. The President will likely have to work his own Democrats to extract meaningful entitlement reforms in order to get significant tax legislation through the House.
If Mitt Romney wins the White House, it doesn’t mean things get much easier. The Senate will still require 60 cloture votes for most legislation, and that number virtually impossible at this point.
There also remains a large faction within the House Republican caucus that may wish to hold onto campaign rhetoric even when faced with final “compromises” that lie within the realm of what is possible given the makeup of both the Senate and financial realities. President Romney may receive his first real test not from Senate Democrats from House Republicans.
And it is with these scenarios in mind that I look at the efforts of groups like Fix The Debt and others that are trying to craft and build support for solutions with bi-partisan backing. Cynics are quick to dismiss many as the efforts of partisans trying to push an agenda under the banner of bipartisanship.
There is a contrarian view that also has merit. These groups are designed to build the coalition necessary to achieve an actual solution in the face of an electorate that will remain divided after this election, with half of the country disappointed at the outcome.
They’re not aimed at converting the “other side”. They’re instead trying to take some of the partisan edge off now from within the extremes of each party that now believe compromise, in any form, is a sign of weakness. They are preparing members of each party to dial back their own rhetoric, as well as the expectations of what is possible.
Half of the country will be disappointed on November 7th. All of the country needs solutions to our nation’s fiscal problems regardless of the outcome of the election. If you’ve already made up your mind about your vote for November 6th, it’s not too early to begin thinking about what we’re really expecting from those who will govern us afterward, regardless which party seems to have the upper hand at the election’s conclusion.