Deep budget cuts and congressional gridlock are threatening to derail President Obama's second-term agenda, but the White House has a plan to save it, according to a report in The Washington Post. Obama is making a major push to help Democrats take back the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterm elections. That would give the president's party control of both houses of Congress (assuming Democrats keep control of the Senate next year), making it much easier for him to push legislation through Congress despite intense opposition from Republicans. "What I can't do is force Congress to do the right thing," Obama said after last-minute talks with Republicans failed to avert deep spending cuts, known as the sequester, from taking effect Friday. "The American people may have the capacity to do that."
Obama and his advisers view their bid to secure a Democratic majority on Capitol Hill as crucial to realizing Obama's goals for the next four years, and cementing his legacy. During the negotiations for a deficit-reduction deal to avoid the sequester, Obama made his opening argument in the coming midterm battle: The GOP is blocking everything on his to-do list, even policies that have broad public support, so restoring full Democratic control of Congress is the only way to get anything done. The question is whether this message will resonate with enough voters to give Democrats the edge they need.
Some on the left are cautiously hopeful. "Obama has long frustrated members of his own party by being reluctant to get involved in much of the ground game of Democratic political campaigns," says Daniel Politi at Slate. Things are different now. His re-election secured, "Obama is less concerned about the perceived independence of his political brand than with being able to move along legislation during his last years in office."
Obama will be raising money, recruiting candidates, and using his new nonprofit to help contenders, all in the hopes of gaining the 17 House seats Democrats need to win back the majority they lost in 2010. Case in point, the president has already committed to eight fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this year, compared with two in 2009. [Slate]
It's easy to see why Obama is eager to help his fellow Democrats, says Blake Zeff at Salon. His policies are being "frustrated by Republican filibusters, fake crises, fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, sequesters, and reflexive opposition," and he has to do something. But he should have started going to bat for Democratic candidates in 2012, when his party was surging and he could have at least cut into the GOP majority.
Now it's anybody's guess what will happen in 2014. "It's far too early to know whether Democrats will have some, or even any, chance to win back the House next year," says Stuart Rothenberg at Roll Call. "Candidate recruitment has just begun, the number of retirements (and open seats) is uncertain, and the president's popularity more than 20 months from now is an open question." But if history is any guide, Obama shouldn't get his hopes up.
Going back to the election of 1862, the only time the president's party gained as many as 10 seats was, well, never. Even in 1934, the best showing by the president's party in House elections since the Civil War, the president’s party gained only nine seats.
In 1998, Democrats gained a handful of seats during Bill Clinton's second midterm (five), and Republicans gained a somewhat larger handful during George W. Bush’s first midterm (eight). But in each case, unusual circumstances — post-impeachment fallout in 1996 and political fallout from the attacks of 9/11 (plus redistricting) in 2002 — help account for the atypical results.
So, while midterm elections have produced some huge swings well in excess of 17 seats recently — in 2010, 2006, 1994, and 1982, for example — all of those swings were in the favor of the party not holding the White House. [Roll Call]
Regardless of how this turns out, though, it suggests the next two years might be unproductive, even by the standards of today's deeply divided Congress. Obama "is going to punt for the next two years," says Ed Rogers at The Washington Post. Instead of "compromising and engaging with other leaders in Washington to make progress," the president is going to bet the farm on the 2014 elections. It makes sense — Obama "doesn't like to govern and he isn't good at it," but he's a heck of a campaigner, so he can put his talents to good use in an attempt to win the right to govern unchallenged and let "his leftist ideology to shape the United States undiluted and unquestioned."
What will the Republican response be to the president’s escalation of off-year campaigning? Their response will be to escalate off-year campaigning. And the public's response to that will be to become more disgusted and disillusioned with our politics as no progress is made in dealing with America’s urgent problems. [Washington Post]
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What is driving the increasingly weird behavior of the polar jet stream?
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- Christians have no moral rationale for spanking their children
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Should you hope to die at 75? Absolutely not.
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 10 ways to gain real superpowers that will change your life
- Tony Blair: The Cassandra of the Middle East
Subscribe to the Week