Monday, January 24, 2011

What Lies Immediately Ahead?

President Obama will now go through the ritual of the State of The Union address (SOTU) to Congress. Only since FDR has the president delivered this message, required by the U.S. constitution, routinely to both assembled houses in person. Today, this custom has become primarily a media event to enhance the incumbent president’s public standing. Unlike the most recent occasion by President Obama, the Republicans now control the U.S. house, and have cloture power over the U.S. senate.

Administration strategists came up with the ploy to have Democrats and Republicans sit together this year, and some will do it. The purpose of this ploy was to reduce the negative image of the president not being applauded by large numbers in attendance (traditionally, each party sits in one section). Nice try. Some GOP members have agreed, but many others have not.

So far, Mr. Obama has attempted to achieve the gloss of bipartisanship on the cheap, including this ploy, but the GOP troops, especially the new recruits, are restless and eager to make their mark, fulfilling their campaign promises.

At some point in the near future, but after the SOTU address, the two sides will clash. This is inevitable because there are two very different policy principles in play, and neither side has truly yet tested the will of the other side. So far, it has all been manipulative rhetoric.

Each side has cards to play. The Republicans clearly won the 2010 election, and it was clearly a reaction to the Obama-Pelosi-Reid legislative agenda. But the Democrats still have a small majority in the U.S. senate, and the president holds veto power. (Overriding an Obama veto seems very unlikely at this point.)

So for the short term, there needs to be some kind of arrangement between the two sides, or when the debt ceiling issue comes up, there will a major conflict. Unlike 1994-95, this may not lead to a victory for the Democratic president. That is because the political/journalistic environment has changed so much. But both sides may decide to postpone their greatest conflicts to later. Ultimately, these issues will be decided in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

Lacking much real leverage, the Democratic leadership has resorted so far to gamesmanship and gimmickry. There is no evidence that they intend to truly make “compromises.” They understandably will test the will of the Republican to force concessions, and it is that defining moment which lies immediately ahead.

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