Tough Choices: Working with a new Republican Congressional Majority Come 2011?
1. A Little Background
The United States Congress convenes to deliberate a wide range of national policy issues after the swearing in of a new congressional session, some of them urgent and important, others sometimes not so urgent. For our blog, all things health care and the environment, the affordable health care law of 2010 and the issue of climate change, pollution controls and remediation, including air and water quality, are much more important. Barring any political gymnastics by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Health Care Law 2010, it is very possible that the Republicans would not subscribe to the climate change bill that has been working its ways through the congressional committees in the past eighteen months. What must Climate Change enthusiast expect come the new session of congress? Delays, redirection, filibustering, and probably mud sling? A few of these has been going on since the November 8th election results and we do not believe it will subside come January, 2011. It is also possible that Republicans will seek some amendments to the Health Care Bill, especially in some areas that hardly sit very well with them. We do not foresee them being able to repeal the whole health care bill; there are just too many good in the law to let it slip away.
Some unique combination of factors may give the Republicans an upper hand in what bill gets moved faster on the congressional house’s schedule and which is left to die in committee. With Republicans making up to 60% of the 435 representatives and close to 42% of the senators, their influence may be felt more at both house committees’ and open floor debates. With more than 21 House Committees and 22 Senate Committees, and probably five joint committees, the wave of Republican influence may have a considerable impact on many bills. Unfortunately, the unique nature of the composition of congress come January further means that Republicans may exert more undue influence to the extent of doing more mischief than if they had maintained similar minority status as in the outgoing congress. This is why the mantra, election results have implications, has a resounding agreement with many voters. In fact, the influence of Republicans would be felt more during house committee leadership deliberations as they will constitute a higher ratio; and probably lesser in senate committees as they constitute a smaller ratio representation in that chamber of congress. While it may be more challenging to move some essential bills through congress, especially a bill like the climate change and pollution controls, no one should rule out that Democrats can achieve other successes in the coming legislative session as they have done in the outgoing congress; and, as they contemplate the remaining work of this presidency.
2. Preparing for Change
So what should voters expect; or, what should President Obama's strategy be in working with a Republican majority in the house? Voters must now familiarize themselves better with the Web sites: (http://www.senate.gov and http://www.house.gov). These sites would not only allow them to get to know the profiles of their representative, it will give them an idea of what bill and issues is coming on in congress and the position of their representatives on the bill. And, if there are issues that voters believe should be addressed or moved on, the voters will find their representative’s email box to flood. There is no room for slacking or jumping the gun on an issue just for the reason that one party, is not known to hold brief on a particular national issue or political bill; or, either because Republicans are not known to subscribe to defense cutting to help balance the budget or democrats would hardly want to torch Social Security benefits. The general online access that these WEB sites offer the voters also prepares them for opportunities to verify allegation of bias against a bill of interest from their representative. The main faction of the Republican Party, popularly referred to as the Tea Party, has an opportunity to ensure that their so-committed conservative values are exemplified in the deliberations at the committee stage of bills until the full floor; just as the compassionate approach to public policy, known with the Democrats, are hardly allowed to slip off with Democrats watching.
3.Tackling Meaningful Goals of the Obama’s Presidency
President Obama must prepare the ground to gain the confidence of Republicans, even on issues that he has an unyielding commitment or that he offered as a ‘must-do’ during his administration during the 2008 election campaign. He may chose to have a high-impact communication expert designating to outreach work with Republicans, permanently attached to the Whitehouse. His goal must be to guide Republicans to see issues more objectively as the Whitehouse, sees them. Once you know where Republicans and Democrats stand on an issue, the communication expert’s job is to move reconciliation of both parties’ representatives closer to what the Obama’s administration envisages as its goal. The communication expert must be able to assess the strength and the weaknesses of both parties’ representative position and based on number of support or antagonism for an upcoming bill or committee deliberation, build a relationship profile and help advance the objectives and cause of this Whitehouse.
Several years ago, 1994, President Clinton was able to build a coalition of foot soldiers in congress to achieve his goal; and, when he found out that Republicans were not going to play ball, he used his inside knowledge of the republican political arrangement to force his position, including closing down the government for some days, because Republicans were not yielding to his Whitehouse objectives. President Obama must do his home-work before yield some of his best bargaining chips to the Republicans. His inability to articulate this aspect of political negotiations in congress in this past weeks, probably led him to yielding the federal employees wage freeze pronouncement he made, a pronouncement that got his Whitehouse nowhere with the tax cut objective for middle income earners and the deficit reduction commission’s voting last week. Further, his less than affirmative stance on some of his Presidency objective during the lame duck session, afforded non-subscription by Republicans to extending unemployment insurance payment this weekend. Republicans early support for the START II Treaty and a bunch of other nuances withered out as Republicans re-asserted their unyielding attitude towards many bills in the past two years as they quickly realize how weak the Presidency was getting during the lame duck session. In addition, the Republicans rejected the proposal to extend tax cut to the middle class, even at a higher threshold of 1 million dollars income, a threshold higher than the President promised during the 2008 election.
4. The Way Forward
President Obama must consider two additional political strong-arming techniques. One is Democratic Leader’s feedback, on what works with Republicans and what essentially does not. We have a hunch that the President is probably not reading the Republican’s position right, because he does not have the full picture of what essentially is, Republicans bravado, and what is their threshold of assimilation of Democrat party’s position on issues. The second is an assessment of the new Tea Party Republican representatives’ political weight in an environment of changing fortunes of the Republican Party. The Republican Party is no-longer monolithic as their leaders would like us to believe. Many of us outside the government, sense some cracks and intimidation in the Republican Party, now than ever before. If in doubt, you may want to ask the question: why did Senate Republicans send a letter to Harry Reid, Senate majority leader on all the dice or nothing on the extension of the Bush Era Taxes last week. This sounds more of a grand standing than the real status of the unity within their party’s representatives in congress. While there may be some unity of purpose in the era of Republican minority in the house of representatives, there is going to be some fratricide when the Tea Party members start to exert their little influence come January when they are sworn in as part of the freshmen class. Republican lawmakers will be in majority in the house at that time and they would have to convince the American Public that they are up-to the task of governing and not just retorting no to every bill out there.
When the President allows his objectives to be railroaded, he becomes more vulnerable. The President has to better assess his chances on all bills before congress, develop his in-house strategies to cajole Republicans to see issues his own way, and if they renounce his position, he must be willing to use the full weight of the office of the Presidency to accomplish his objectives. It is somewhat truthful, that the President would no longer be in a secure environment as in the past two years where experienced democrats were able to secure enough votes for his objectives without much direct involvement from the Whitehouse. Politics is a game of number and Democrats don’t have that number come January in congress. The better option then, is to look elsewhere, where and when to compromise to still achieve the objective of governance. The opportunity to win over some Republicans, who have not been polluted is there and the freshman class is one group to achieve that extra political power and number to accomplish the goal of his Presidency.
5. Advancing the Climate Change Bill
Tackling the issue of climate change and the environment is still feasible. In Politics, never say never! For example, sometimes a bill that hardly receives empathy from an outgoing congress, later on rebounds after some unforeseen events, even at the time of initial deliberation at the committee level. It is not every time that you imagine that things would not work out, that they actually never work out. Drawing out empathy and sympathy for positions that looked at variance with the objective of a political Party have sometimes win out after some very outrageous events occurring. Can anyone imagine how the events of September 11 galvanized the people’s support for the Bush’s Presidency after the voting chad debacle in the State of Florida? Can anyone imagine at the time President Reagan was cutting taxes for the rich in 1981 that he would end up being one of the Presidents that grew the size of government at an astronomical way?. Yes, Reagan cut taxes to the wealthy but spent gazillions on Defense and some social programs that probably made Democrats blush! That is the reality of politics and President Obama can take a cue from that. If the President’s goal is still to cut greenhouse emissions and introduce the carbon-tax regime, it is still do-able!
There is always an opportunity to feel the impulse of your opponents by getting closer and warmer to understand what make him or her tick. Getting upset and refusing to get engaged with the Republicans may have a damaging influence on governance. Redefining the turf by listening to the interests of the Republicans diminishes the chances that Republicans will be able to always marginalize the interest of the Whitehouse in congress. Time spent in cultivating the empathy of the opponents is often useful in getting to the impulses of the opponent and redefining the political turf. Learning to understand the values and the motivational variables for a new group of Republicans in the House of Representatives may help address the new challenges of the political turf and defining the motivational variables necessary for bringing the Republicans around to the objectives of the Whitehouse. The Whitehouse must continue to plug away on those factors that make it seem that both parties can work together on bills, if it wants to change the tone of support for his policies. A well-done outreach relationship building with men and women in congress from the White house can actually do the magic; and, reposition this Presidency for prioritizing which bill to move in congress and which to let steam off for a while until the opportune moment.
In addition to feeling the impulses of the Republicans and cultivating the congressional freshmen of 2011, it may well be necessary to change the deeply ingrained characteristics of Democratic Party negotiating strategies in congress. This is not to say, dropping the values and ethos of the Democrats; or, challenging the style of the outgoing Democratic Leaders in Congress. Upping the game of Nancy Pelosi must not be seen as necessarily unworkable in a House Republican majority. Ms. Pelosi has been one of the most skillful leaders in the United States Congress. The fact that many bills were passed during the time of her leadership as speaker says a billion about her negotiating skills and leadership style. The fact that she is retuning as a minority leader hardly shrinks her influence, even among conservative Democrats and probably, some new Republican Lawmakers! What you can do, is to give her the tool needed to make things happen again just as she has done in the outgoing congress without the huge funfair of a roaring lion!