Could a President Obama Control a Democratic Congress?

“Elections have consequences,” John McCain said during the final presidential debate. It’s his way of saying that certain decisions are the prerogative of a president; if you want them to play out differently, win the White House yourself. Should McCain manage to pull out an improbable victory on Tuesday, however, he may well find out how inconsequential elections can actually be. McCain would almost certainly become the first president in 20 years to enter office with a Congress dominated by a hostile opposition, and the scorn he has earned from formerly sympathetic Democrats during what has been, at times, a small and cynical campaign would make the few miles between the Capitol and the White House feel like the distance separating, say, Juneau, Alaska, and Moscow. Narrowly elected amid the inevitable allegations of fraud and divisiveness, McCain in his first year would stand little chance of passing a proclamation honoring Betsy Ross, much less any meaningful legislation on health care, energy or taxes.

By Matt Bai
The New York Times
November 2, 2008

 

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For Barack Obama, of course, expectations would be significantly higher. In the 40 years since Lyndon Johnson left office, Democrats have spent much of their time and capital defending the programmatic pillars of the New Deal and the Great Society from conservative marauders rather than adding on to that legacy; even Bill Clinton’s signature achievements — welfare reform, the 1994 anti-crime bill, balanced budgets — were in large part about curbing the excesses of 20th-century liberalism. Now, with the Republican revolution in ruins and the global economy not far behind, Democrats in Washington sense an opportunity not simply to retake power but also to do something momentous with it. If Obama puts his hand to a Bible in January, he may well look out on the highest number of Democratic senators and congressmen since Jimmy Carter took office in 1976 — a substantial majority for a president who has promised a slate of expansive new programs.

If recent history is any guide, however, Obama would need more than raw numbers in his favor. Congressional majorities are, in fact, a lot like corporate profits; they exist on paper, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually there when you need them….

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/magazine
/02wwln-lede-t.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

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