Despite Compromise, Obama Stuck in Lose-Lose

by Lyman Stone

The Republican takeover of the House has proven interesting for the American political scene. The “landmark” health care bill has been successfully assaulted by an equally “landmark” repeal bill, and the nation is blessed with a ready stream of political tears from the Honorable John Boehner. They are interesting times.

However, we may have reason to hope they will get even more interesting. With Senate still in Democratic hands, House Republicans are legally handicapped: they can’t really pass anything. Deadlock, right? Wrong.

The House can pass everything, and throw it at the Senate’s doors. They can deliver on every campaign promise, without compromise, every day, because the Senate seems unlikely to negotiate about bills with “Job-Killing” in their name. The Senate, and therefore the Democrats, will be on the defensive facing a House that, probably, will not do anything to make negotiations easy.

Republicans will argue for regulatory reform, spending cuts, tax cuts, more regulatory reform, a bit more regulatory reform, and maybe even some more. Obama, who has adopted an increasingly centrist position, will be in a bind: eventually people will ask questions about why the supposedly centrist President is not leaning on his Senatorial majority to compromise with the popular Republican house.

Real compromise will occasionally happen: deadlock sometimes produces productive results (Welfare Reform), and sometimes produces painfully stupid results (the recent unemployment benefits extension combined with a tax cut, for example). But what we can also expect is a sharper definition of positions: either Obama’s centrist rhetoric will lead to his supporting a number of policies unpopular with the liberal wing of his party, or else he will harden his position on the left, and bet everything on the hope that the Tea Party lacks staying political power.

If Obama entrenches his left base, he will get absolutely nothing done, and he will lose in 2012: a win for Republicans. If Obama moves rightward and plays ball with a Republican House to the detriment of a Democratic Senate, the Democrats become divided, and many Republican policies get implemented: a win for Republicans.

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