The election has been decided. The stage is set. The battle lines have been drawn. The Republicans have declared victory and they have revealed their legislative agenda, which looks a lot more like a battle plan. Senate Minority Leader Mitch Mcconnell has declared that his primary goal is to prevent President Obama from winning a second term. The Republican agenda, according to McConnell, is threefold: (1) repeal health care, (2) cut spending, and (3) reduce the deficit.
Having learned from his experiences of working with an obstructionist Republican Senate over the past two years, the President dug in his heels for a fight. Just two months ago Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that the President was opposed to extending the tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 per year. On Thursday Gibbs intimated that the Administration was considering temporarily extending the tax cuts. He did what, you ask? The President has jumped the shark.
Two years of Republican stonewalling, which led to a massacre in the House of Representatives, and a direct challenge, threatening his position and authority, and Obama responds by offering McConnell - a gift? - a $700 billion dollar gift? Then he proceded to speak of how he is hoping to form a concensus with the Republican Congress. Has the President surrendered or has he lost his mind?. Mitch McConnell has achieved his goal. The President is toast.
It appears that President has read the tea leaves, and they say impeachment. Or perhaps he heard reports from the Ed Schulz show indicating that Republicans are plotting to impeach Obama, according to South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn. Could it be that this President, who looked the other way, when challenged by critics for failing to investigate possible war crimes of the prior administration, and for failing to pursue criminal liability against those responsible for the economic collapse, could now find himself the subject of a criminal investigation or possible removal from office? Is it possible that Obama is willing to cave in to the demands of the Republican Party, because he is afraid of losing his job?
The President is in a real quandary. Pending Speaker of the House Jim Boehner has insisted that Republicans won't compromise on their plan, meaning that Obama will be unable to push through any of his own initiatives. This will stall any possible economic recovery, leaving him totally vulnerable in the 2012 elections. However if he embraces the Republican plan of cutting spending and reducing the deficit, it will wreak havoc on his base, making it impossible for him to get reelected. In addition, the $700 billion extended tax cut for top incomes will increase the deficit and balloon the national debt.
The President, being the idealist that he is, has apparently decided that his safest option is to continue to attempt to negotiate with the Republican leadership, all of whom are unwilling to compromise. Although this approach is totally illogical and the possibility that the spending cuts will likely result in rampant unemployment, massive business failures, record bankruptcies, and a near certain depression, the Obama administration has already indicated that budget cuts are planned for every department of government except defense. The major problem with this approach is that defense spending comprises the majority of the federal budget's discretionary spending.
Republicans have indicated a preference for across the board cuts, also exempting defense spending, but many of the 2010 Republican campaigns seemed to target entitlement spending like Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Compensation, and Welfare. They have offered no specific plan for possible cuts nor have they offered any possible remedies for persons adversely impacted by such cuts. Although Social Security and Medicare programs comprise a huge portion of the total federal budget, they are funded by payroll taxes, contributions, if you will, and these funds are not transferable to other federal agencies, except when borrowed against (as has been the practice) and this too inflates the national debt. So, it is virtually impossible to cut enough from the discretionary spending of the federal budget to balance it, especially without cutting defense spending.
Since President Obama retains the veto option, perhaps he believes that he can salvage health care reform if he offers other concessions like the extension of the tax cuts. However, he should understand by now, that Republicans only play hardball. Obama's first major hurdle will be in getting Republicans to go along with an increase in the debt ceiling, a process which is normally a matter of exercise, but some of the Tea Party victors, like Rand Paul, have voiced objections to routinely increasing the debt limit. But, If the debt limit is not raised by a given date, the federal government will go into default, which will result in a worldwide meltdown of the economic system. During the campaign, several candidates, like Sharron Angle, campaigned on a promise to drastically scale down the federal government, with some even favoring dissolution.
Obama's next major hurdle will be passage of the federal budget. Although Republicans defeated Paygo when Democrats brought it to the Floor and voted for it, Republicans have always campaigned for a Balanced Budget Amendment. Under current economic conditions though, it will be virtually impossible to balance the budget without cutting defense spending. Several Republicans have proposed eliminating entire Departments, like Energy and Education, but without defense cuts, a balanced budget would require huge spending cuts in things like veteran's programs, farm subsidies, government contracts, tax breaks, infrastructure improvements, social services, prisons, and support to states. Republicans would not support a balanced budget amendment, because in order for it to be effective, it would require an increase in taxes, primarily on the highest incomes.
If Obama finds his way over the first two hurdles, his third challenge from the right will be the shutdown of the federal government. It has happened before, in 1994 following the Congressional elections. Some, on the right side of the aisle, have already proposed the idea, like Representative Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican, who brought up the possibility at a gathering of social conservatives where he was seen lobbying for support of a shutdown. In September, he suggested that a government shutdown could be in the offing if the G.O.P. took back the House. Such a shutdown would drastically and negatively impact all government operations, with veterans, seniors, and the poor being especially hard hit.
President Obama's first major challenge will be a Republican assault on the health care reform bill. Some Republicans want to repeal it altogether, while others prefer to eliminate provisions which they, and health insurance providers, disagree with. Democrats do not believe that the people would accept a total repeal of the legislation, but based upon the results of Tuesday's elections, they might need to hedge their bet. If Republicans fail to repeal the entire bill, they will attempt to amend the bill so it is more to their liking, and that of the health insurance providers.
But what will Barack Obama do? When health care was being debated and the issues of public option and single payer met opposition, Obama capitulated. In fact, on several other issues where he has been met with strong opposition, Obama flinched. He has shown a propensity to back away when the going gets tough, so it is unlikely that he will pick up a big stick and begin fighting for his base now that he has lost support.
Obama's quandary also puts the entire Democratic Party in jeopardy. If he refuses to stand up and fight for those who elected him, if he adopts the agenda of the Republican Party, if he is afraid of impeachment, or if he cannot be elected to another term, what promise, what hope, does he give to the Democratic Party? Has he already become a lame duck president?
Will the Democrats simply stand by and watch as Republicans dismantle the government or is there a Democratic alternative? If Obama is not their ally, is he not their enemy? Despite their campaign rhetoric, Republicans have offered no detailed plans for reducing unemployment or for stemming foreclosures, but neither has Obama. In fact when some banks temporarily suspended foreclosures, Obama suggested that such suspension was ill-advised. Obama has become more of a liability to Democrats than an asset.
Is it possible that if Barack Obama were to be impeached, Democrats might put up just as much resistance to the his impeachment as Obama put up to eliminating the public option in health care reform. If Obama were impeached and removed from office or forced to resign, Vice President Biden could take over the reins of the presidency and give the Democrats a fresh start. This would allow the Democrats to run a different candidate in 2012, possibly a highly credible candidate, one preferred by many democrats during the last Presidential primary. If Obama was forced out of office, there might even be a chance that Biden could be convinced to resign, leaving the door open for the next person in the line of succession - the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.