Partisan warfare in the 113th Congress.
Jan 14, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 17 • By JAY COST
As if all this were not enough, there remain the impending battles on the debt ceiling and sequestration that were merely postponed by last week’s tax deal. These are going to be hard issues for the two sides to come together on, and will assuredly pose a problem for getting other big things done. History shows that there is such a thing as legislative momentum; it was a key reason why LBJ held off attempting to repeal the right-to-work sections of the Taft-Hartley Act during the Great Society Congress until after Medicare and the Voting Rights Act had been passed. He knew that putting Congress through a process that would divide liberals and conservatives, Northerners and Southerners, was bound to slow progress on other issues.
After taking tough votes on taxes and spending, what appetite will today’s members have for votes on gun control or immigration? What’s more, dealing with tough issues can generate bad blood between leaders, which further impedes negotiations. Already, we see such divisions developing—between Boehner and Reid, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and Reid, Boehner and Obama—and the 113th Congress has only just begun.
For conservatives, all of this should come as a relief. With Mitt Romney’s defeat in November, most recognize that any big deals favoring their positions are impossible. Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton, and there is no hope of a grand center-right bargain with him, let alone the Democratic Senate. Obama, Boehner, and Reid are not going to cut a deal on entitlement reform in the way Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Trent Lott made a deal on welfare reform in 1996. But to say that there will likely be no big breakthroughs means that the left can expect to be stultified as well.
The Beltway punditocracy will, of course, bemoan gridlock. But the blame is misdirected. Our system of government is designed to impede reforms not backed by a broad majority, and the country remains deeply divided. While most Americans agree that the status quo is unacceptable, there is no consensus on what to do about any major issue. Thus, for the next two years, we should expect Washington to accomplish little.
Unfortunately, all of this is a consequence of the last election. Conservatives had hoped to provide the public a clear contrast on the issues of spending, taxes, and economic growth, and that the electorate would come down definitively on one side or the other. The people declined to do that, and the result of their demurral will be at least two more years of stagnation.
Jay Cost is a staff writer atThe Weekly Standard.