The lame-duck session that brings to a close the 111th Congress is turning out to be a watershed. But not in the way Harry Reid probably expected it would.
When you think of it, this really has been a disgraceful Congress. For the first time in memory, the United States had a parliamentary form of government. In other words, one party controlled both the executive and the legislature and could pass whatever it chose to with nothing but squawking from the other side. In Britain, where they know how to do these things, the government proposes something and it becomes law practically within days. The legislative party follows Downing Street’s lead.
Not with this crowd. Even with a filibuster-proof Senate majority, the Democrats failed to pass their desiderata, arriving at the end of the Congress with cherished items unfinished, such as card-check for unions, immigration reform, cap and trade, gay marriage, and closure of Guantanamo. As we discussed last week, they haven’t even concluded their most fundamental responsibility, passing a budget and the concomitant appropriations bills. And the laws they did pass, notably the $850 billion stimulus and Obamacare, have disappointed the left for not going far enough and outraged everyone else for going as far as they did. What is it with these guys? How did they squander their majorities so badly?
As if to make up for lost time, Harry Reid tried to cram a half-dozen bills into a session that is normally called only to wrap up necessary unfinished business. But the Republicans made it clear that they wouldn’t consider anything before resolving the two-year-delayed issue of the expiring Bush tax cuts. And resolve it they did – even though the Democrats still had the big majorities, the tax cuts were extended for even the high-earners. Imagine – a Democratic Congress, prodded and cajoled by the Democratic President, passed by comfortable margins an extension of the tax cuts they have been decrying for most of the decade as a giveaway to the rich.
After that, the main necessary business was to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government so it didn’t shut down on Dec 18, when the last continuing resolution expired. But Reid – who seems not to have noticed what happened just six weeks ago – trotted out a bloated, take-it-or-leave-it, $1.2-trillion omnibus bill to gross up expenditures for the next fiscal year. It was evident to the most casual observer that this was more of the same arrogant, spendthrift, cram-down law-making that had been summarily rejected in November.
It was artful, and cynical. Artful in that, had it passed, it would have established a new, higher baseline from which the incoming Congress would have to reduce spending. It also would have spent over a billion dollars to begin funding the agencies and programs of Obamacare – a “facts on the ground” beginning that would make it that much harder for the next Congress to reverse the whole monstrosity. And it was cynical in that it included among its 6000 earmarks many which had been proposed by Republicans earlier this year before they swore off that potent crack. That’s right – Democrats put Republican earmark requests in the bill, purely to make it difficult for them to oppose it.
So kudos to Mitch McConnell for holding the troops together. Reid withdrew the bill before it even came to a preliminary vote. And this is what makes this such a watershed lame duck session: even before the new class is sworn into office, the language that is being spoken in the halls of Congress is Republican. Both the tax cut extensions and the rejection of the spending bill represent towering victories for conservative fiscal principles.
And the intriguing thing is that Obama has been on board with this. Certainly with the tax cut extensions, it was Obama who recognized the new power structure and quickly moved to cut a deal. And I didn’t see him push real hard for the omnibus spending bill, either, and he probably heaved a sigh of relief when it went down in flames. What was Reid thinking?
It remains to be seen, of course, if this is Obama’s version of triangulating. He talks a good story when it comes to restoring fiscal sobriety – even though it’s his spending we have to roll back. And perhaps there is a Nixon-goes-to-China possibility of a liberal President presiding over fundamental reform of the fiscal process.
But this guy’s a redistributionist in his bones. His campaign comments to Joe the Plumber (“we’re all better off when we share the wealth”) and to Charlie Gibson (he’d raise cap gains taxes “for purposes of fairness” even if it brought in less revenue) reveal where his true heart is. And he will fight like a junkyard dog to keep Obamacare on track. So I don’t hold out much hope for a transformed Presidency over the next two years.
Having said that, he has shown little compunction about throwing problematic people under the bus. Will he ultimately decide the great swath of independent voters out there – the ones who abandoned the Democrats last November – are more important to his re-election than the students, union members, and other left-liberals who constitute his base?
Will John Boehner become his buddy, and Nancy Pelosi become irrelevant?