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Obama's Fall

How quickly the president and congressional Democrats have turned to tricks and ploys and sham events.

12:00 AM, Feb 15, 2010 • By FRED BARNES
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How the mighty have fallen! Only seven or eight months ago, President Obama and congressional Democrats were on their way to remaking America along liberal lines and positioning themselves for decades of political dominance. Their lopsided majorities in the House and Senate, plus the White House, gave them unassailable command of Washington.

Today, they still have those majorities and the presidency, but they’re no longer in command. Their hopes of enacting the most ambitious agenda of liberal legislation since the days of FDR and the Depression are over. Now they’re reduced to stunts, tricks, and gambits usually associated with embattled presidents and minority parties.

Obama’s invitation to Republicans to join him at a bipartisan health care summit next week has been dubbed the “Blair House stunt” by political analyst Jay Cost. (They’ll meet at the Blair House across the street from the White House.) It’s supposed to give Democrats and Republicans a chance to compromise on health care reform--on ObamaCare, as it’s been nicknamed.

Fat chance. The invitation makes it clear that Republicans would be props in the televised summit as Obama and Democrats tout their own bill. Both houses of Congress have passed “comprehensive health care legislation,” it says.  “…The Blair House meeting is the next step in the process.”

If that isn’t plain enough about what Democrats are up to, the strategy that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is currently pursuing on ObamaCare should remove any doubts. She has concocted a three-step process to pass the Democratic bill without any input from Republicans (as usual).

It’s a tricky process, as even some Democrats concede. And it’s both complicated and a last ditch ploy, a legislative hail mary. First, the House must pass the Senate version of ObamaCare, which won Senate approval on Christmas Eve. Then, in a second bill, the House would enact changes in the legislation to make it more amenable to wary Democrats in the House. The third step would have Democrats use “reconciliation” in the Senate to pass the changes with 51 votes, not the 60 normally needed to overcome a filibuster.  This tactic would touch off a firestorm of Republican protests.

But it may not work. Putting together a majority in the House may be beyond Pelosi’s skill at cajoling and intimidating reluctant Democratic members.  When the House version of ObamaCare passed in November, it got 220 votes. She’s lost 4 votes since then (one by resignation, one by imminent resignation, one by death, one by switching). That gives Pelosi 216 votes, one short of a majority given the vacancies. Also, a number of Democrats may join Republicans to oppose reconciliation in the Senate.

So much for ObamaCare.  It’s hanging by a thread.  So is the remainder of the liberal agenda. To deal with this dire situation, Obama is preparing to issue executive orders “to advance energy, environmental, fiscal and other domestic policy priorities,” according to Peter Baker of the New York Times.

There’s nothing wrong with executive orders, except they are less immutable than legislation passed by Congress.  They can be revoked by subsequent presidents.  What’s unusual is that a president with large majorities of his own party in both houses of Congress must turn to such orders to salvage a semblance of his agenda.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats terrified by the prospect of a Republican landslide in the midterm elections in November have come up with a new tactic. They’ll force Republicans either to vote for a series of modest but purportedly popular bills or be accused of obstructionism if they vote against the bills.

It’s stunning that this is what Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and once-triumphant Democrats have stooped to. It’s an old practice. Republicans have used it in the past.

But Democrats, only months ago, thought of themselves as masters of Washington and rulers of the political universe. A liberal transformation of America seemed to be within their grasp.  Now, the public having rejected their program, it has slipped away. Their descent into tricks and ploys and sham events--the stuff of uptight legislators and desperate presidents--has occurred with mind-boggling speed. And they have only themselves to blame.

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