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What will Obama do if the Republicans take power?


Mark Schmitt wonders what Republicans will do if they capture the House of Representatives in November. Shut down the government? Nah. Repeal health-care reform? Unlikely. Pass Paul Ryan's budget plan? Absolutely not. Agree to a major and unpopular deficit reduction package that includes tax hikes? You've got to be kidding.

In reality, Republicans won't do much of anything if they take back the House, as they won't have much power. Rep. Darrell Issa can launch a bunch of investigations meant to tie up and weigh down the Obama administration, but Republicans don't control the Senate and they don't control the White House. Think back to the aftermath of the 2006 election: Democrats took both the Senate and the House, and they didn't really get anything done, either.

The more interesting question, I think, is what President Obama will do if Republicans take back the House and the Senate. If they just take back the House, Obama can't anger Senate Democrats by shifting his agenda too dramatically. That's a world of gridlock. But if Republicans manage to grab both houses of Congress -- unlikely, I know -- Obama will face the same choice that Bush and Clinton did: Does he transform his agenda into something he can work with Republicans to achieve, as Clinton did? Tax reform could fit here, or if you want to worry liberals, Social Security reform. Or does Obama use the veto pen as a scythe, and try to arrange the politics for a big comeback in 2012?

From watching and reporting on the administration, my hunch is that Obama would take the first path and try to make progress where possible. Also, unlike Bush but just like Clinton, Obama can't just obstruct and lose popularity. He's still got a reelection campaign to run.

Photo credit: Brendan Hoffman -- Bloomberg.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 27, 2010; 9:43 AM ET
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Given how well obstructionism has worked so far, you wonder if Republicans will have any incentive to do anything if they take the House. You have to think Obama will take more of the blame for a floundering economy than Republicans.

On the other hand, perhaps Republicans might be more amenable to passing some kind of stimulus knowing that they will get more of the credit. I don't believe Republicans are actually against a stimulus if they were to reap electoral rewards for improving the economy. Their concerns on the deficit are obviously bogus. Why not help improve the economy and take credit for something the Dems were unable to do? I'm sure the House GOP won't have too much trouble cooking up some reason why their stimulus is better than the Dems' stimulus.

Posted by: DDAWD | July 27, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I could see Obama doing education reform.

Posted by: Tragicflaw | July 27, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

The GOPers will obstruct. They know no other course, it's realtively easy and have no idea how to govern. We will be stuck with efforts to engage Snowe, Collins, and Brown and keep idiots like Ben Nelson in the fold. The annoying Lindsay Graham will do his Lucy and the football schtick and it will be impossible to do anything.

In some ways, Clinton was better in a crisi, whereas Bush was basically a creature of his handlers. Obama drops the professorial reserve in a fight and something like this might energize him and help him define himself and the Dems, but with little to show for it.

GOP obstruction has allowed us to lose a couple generations on the environment and on retooling the economy. They continue to show a willingness to turn back the clock on a range of social issues including family planning (the evangelical anti-abortionists are slowly showing their hand on this) and civil rights (Tea Party racism much?). They have to be stopped from taking over anything.

Posted by: thebuckguy | July 27, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Social Security reform is the only place to go to get a big win for both parties. That is the policy reform that should come out of these next two years if Republicans win the House.

It would be a big victory for the Obama legacy and give Republicans the argument that there is less federal spending obligation in the long term.

Posted by: lancediverson | July 27, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

insofar as he continues to be the only member of the democratic party who thinks there is a useful possibility of dealing with today's lunatic republican party, i'd say if he pursues such a course, he will get precisely 2 votes for re-election, since the rest of the dems (other than barack and michelle) will stay home.

Posted by: howard16 | July 27, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

How about deficit reduction? Put out a plausible plan that balances tax increases and budget reductions. Force the GOP to put out a plan--which they won't be able to do given the continuing stated belief that tax cuts increase revenues. Grab the mantle of fiscal discipline going into 2012.

Posted by: edwardlahoa | July 27, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse


To take howard16's point a step further: if Obama loses one or both houses of Congress, and chooses to pursue your first hypothetical, selling out the Democratic base for quixotic GOP support, he'll certainly field a primary challenger in '12. If Pelosi -- the most effective Democratic leader in Washington, no contest -- surrenders her gavel in January, then the floodgates will burst open. The most underreported story so far is how angry and frustrated the Democratic base feels -- and that's tens of millions of primary voters.

The base will not continue to reward a GOP-lite slate of policies and a political strategy of capitulation, time and again. You should know that by now.

Posted by: scarlota | July 27, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I think you underestimate the odds that the republicans shut down government, particularly if they end up with only a 1 or 2 vote majority and some very heterodox tea party members and some unexpected wins in Democratic leaning districts with members who are immediately vulnerable. The calculus might be toward making a large play rather than a petty slowdown of legislation to be able to get the momentum to overturn HCR.

Posted by: tmorgan2 | July 27, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

You heard it here first from Ezra, boys and girls. Mr. O plans to sell out anything that remains of the social safety net, in the middle or the worst economic crisis since the Depression no less, all in the name of "progress," to avoid charges of "obstruction," and to enhance his own re-election chances. That's some hope and change, all right. Cheers!

Posted by: redscott | July 27, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Bush never Vetoed anything from his Republican Congress but did after 2006 and Democrats took over.

With possible Obama Vetoes and hopefully Democrats will file as many holds and Filibusters as the Republicans did against them, which I doubt, Republicans, if they take over, will produce NOTHING Democrats Don't like!

Posted by: ddoiron1 | July 27, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

We know Obama's in bed with the fat, greedy, uneducated union bosses who spend workers' union dues playing politics!
However, not everyone who belongs to a union is necessarily liberal. So,where is their voice?

Posted by: ohioan | July 27, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Obama will come under fire for using a social security number of a dead man? Right now his attorney's have keep this under wraps. Obama now has spent $1.7 million and rising to keep his birth recordsw secret, with Republicans in power in the House and possibly the Senate Obama will get a full monte.

Posted by: Richie5 | July 27, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

What will Obama do? Along with he rest of us endlessly suffer through Howard Fineman et al telling what the President should have done.

Posted by: ostrogoth | July 27, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Shut down the government? Ezra Klein - Hey guy...Obama has already shut down free enterprise! What we'll do is stop the government spending, act to stop the most nation damaging bankrupting acts of Obama and his revolutionairies, and protect the American people, and work to dig out of the government takeovers of a free society!

Posted by: USDefender | July 27, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Shut down the government? Ezra Klein - Hey guy...Obama has already shut down free enterprise! What we'll do is stop the government spending, act to stop the most nation damaging bankrupting acts of Obama and his revolutionairies, and protect the American people, and work to dig out of from the government takeovers of a free society! Make an immmediate freeze of all government spending except essential for funtioning. Layoff, and disharge as many high-paid government people as we can afford to lose.

Posted by: USDefender | July 27, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

If Republicans take the House & Senate, the best thing Obama can do is set himself up for 2012, by making those lying neo-freaks live up to every ounce of propaganda they've been selling since Obama took office. There is no way on earth they can practice what they preach. They couldn't even cut PORK without flippin out on each-other.

Posted by: HemiHead66 | July 27, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

and to pick up on scarlota picking up on me: the story of the democratic base isn't being covered well. it's limited to the fact that the base is discouraged.

but the reason that the base is discouraged is that obama keeps undercutting the base by trying to deal with crazy people, and that makes many of us angry: obama isn't stupid, after all, so it's hard to see why he continues to act as though crazy people are sane.

Posted by: howard16 | July 27, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Republicans will lose seats in the House and Senate.

More dropping shoes are OTW..


Posted by: vettessman | July 27, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

As a liberal Democrat, I will abandon this administration if it focuses on destroying Social Security or pursuing austerity to reduce the deficit in the face of 10% unemployment. I did it when Clinton signed on to NAFTA and welfare reform in 1996 and I'll do it again, even if the bar for abandonment is set higher this time. Clinton only succeeded in his own turn to the right after 1994 because there wasn't high unemployment. Obama will only succeed in 2012 if he aligns with the progressive left. I don't even think he could beat a half-wit like Palin if he loses his base.

Posted by: soundizen | July 27, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

i'd like to see him private amtrak, if that meant bringing in private capital to increase investment in high-speed rail.

Posted by: SnowleopardNZ | July 27, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Why do you act like:

"Rep. Darrell Issa can launch a bunch of investigations meant to tie up and weigh down the Obama administration"

is not that big a deal, especially with the giant Republican propaganda machine and the shameful behavior of the media?

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | July 27, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I see the tinfoil teabagger contingent is out in force again. Get real, people. Obama is trying to be free enterprise's best friend. Understandably skittish about raising taxes, did everything the economists told him to do to minimize the recession's impact on the private sector, didn't raise a finger to push for climate change legislation with the result that the Senate decided not to bother, and out of all the health reform packages on offer ranging from letting the insurance companies go on shredding existing policyholders to having the government take over everything, Obama picked the plan that keeps existing insurance as much as possible as it is. How that adds up to socializing the economy, I guess one could only find the "answer" by having a Tea Party conference analyzed by a team of psychiatrists.

Posted by: dblissmn | July 27, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Speaking as someone who is working to restore Republic majorities, my objective is gridlock. Do no harm: Stop Obama's agenda. Then we have two years to work our butts off to defeat him.

Posted by: wbcoleman | July 28, 2010 3:34 AM | Report abuse

if republicans win,they will want more tax cuts for the wealthy, more handouts to big oil/coal/defense/agribusiness, deregulation so (banks can gamble and give there staff the profits if they win and another bailout if they lose)And the looming crisis over the deficit and growing debt? Republicans will just pass the buck (again) down to their kids, The President will have to veto to keep the country solvent

Posted by: 7trumpets | July 28, 2010 5:12 AM | Report abuse

Faced with a loss of the House and very possibly the Senate, Obama and his gang will marshall their socialist/marxist compadres to accelerate their agenda to dismantle this country prior to turning over power.

Posted by: pielusztcontractor | July 28, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Not "if" but "when"..and you will have played an instrumental part in helping that come about.

Posted by: AG11 | July 28, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

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