Democrats have something else to fear after the November midterms besides just an all Republican-controlled Congress: President Barack Obama.
With Obama’s political career winding down and poll numbers continuing to languish, his party brethren fret that their own president — forced to work with GOP majorities — would give away the store on key policy issues ranging from the budget to energy and trade. It’s a concern congressional Democrats have voiced every time Obama and Vice President Joe Biden tried to cut big fiscal deals with Republicans — and the panic is now more palpable with the growing prospect of a Senate GOP majority.
Washington’s current gridlock may seem destined to last forever, but divided government has produced strange bedfellows before. President George W. Bush switched teams on some key issues in his final two years after Democrats took the House and Senate, becoming a cap-and-trade convert who bailed out Wall Street. President Bill Clinton partnered with the same Republicans who impeached him to overhaul welfare and balance the budget. And President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill found common ground reforming the Tax Code and Social Security.
While tackling anything comprehensive with legislation sounds far-fetched before the next president is sworn in, that doesn’t mean there won’t be moments starting after November when Obama would be tempted to negotiate with Republicans following four years of stalemate. After all, the GOP would have greater leverage. And with the White House on the line in 2016, Republicans will also want to prove they aren’t just against Obama but actually capable of governing again.
“Clearly it’s a concern. It keeps me awake at night,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “From his standpoint, better to advance the ball and maybe give away some stuff than leave nothing at all. From our standpoint, better to fight another day than give away core principles of contents and conviction.”
Democrats on both ends of the Capitol were openly skeptical when asked about Republicans running the legislative agenda, particularly since any Senate GOP majority would still be well short of the 60-vote thresholds needed to overcome filibusters, much less the two-thirds majority to override Obama vetoes. For starters, House Republicans wouldn’t be flying solo anymore with oversight, meaning subpoena power and testy hearings on the IRS, EPA and Benghazi would be run by the likes of Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa on Judiciary, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma on Environment and Public Works and John McCain of Arizona on Armed Services.
But it’s the prospect of what Obama might bargain on with Republicans that has Democrats really riled up.