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They're Getting What They Asked For

December 22, 2009

Nearly two feet of snow fell in Washington, DC, over last weekend, setting a record for a December snowfall and guaranteeing a white Christmas. Senate Democrats couldn't wait, however; they braved the blizzard, exchanged Christmas presents early, and got the 60 votes they needed to invoke cloture and ensure final passage of their unpopular healthcare-reform bill in January. Democrats should enjoy their new toy when it arrives. All they are likely to find under their Christmas tree next year is a notice that their House and Senate have been repossessed.

At the moment, however, Democratic Senators are quite pleased with themselves. They all got what the wanted. Harry Reid got his 60 votes. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) got $300 million to fund Louisiana Medicaid subsidies. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) got rid of a “public option” and an expansion of Medicare. Ben Nelson (D-NE) got compromise language on abortion funding and a permanent exemption of Nebraska from paying its Medicaid subsidies.

Unfortunately, in the process of cutting the deals necessary to pass the Senate bill and keep healthcare reform on the fast track, Democrats managed to roil their liberal base. Conservatives don’t like the Senate bill because it still involves the government too much in healthcare. Liberals don’t like it because it doesn’t involve government enough.

A House-Senate conference committee must still work out differences between their two bills, and right-to-life Democrats in the House may not like the Senate’s abortion language. Speaker Nancy Pelosi will just have shower House Democrats with a few presents (and some threats), and President Obama will have a bill to sign before the State of the Union address in January. "Don't worry," she'll tell them, "American voters have short memories."

She's right, most do; and although nearly 60 percent of Americans are opposed to more government control of healthcare, most also aren’t single-issue voters--realities Democrats are counting on. If voter dissatisfaction with healthcare reform was Democrats only problem, their situation might not be so serious.

Democrats may have won an important battle in the war to transform America, even if the healthcare-reform bill doesn’t advance their cause as far as they hoped, but they’re losing too many voters in the process. Unless they can regroup, reload, and capture the high ground, their Waterloo awaits them 10 months from now at the polls.

On the domestic front, Democrats are losing voters in the “cap and trade”/climate-change battle. Cap and trade legislation passed in the House by a narrow margin, but it’s extremely unlikely it will pass the Senate in an election year; and the Copenhagen Climate-Change Summit was a disaster. Obama’s speech at the summit, in which he failed to make the broad political commitments many expected, put the final nail in the coffin of an international climate-change treaty and the Kyoto-Copenhagen process.

The recent endangerment finding by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its decision to regulate CO2 emissions, however, ensures that climate-change skirmishes will continue and another highly unpopular issue will regularly appear in the media in 2010, giving Republicans another issue to use against Democrats.

On the issues Americans care about most--the economy and jobs--the $787 billion stimulus package has been a failure. Deficit spending is out of control and, while the recession may have technically ended, real unemployment in the United Stares (people looking for jobs plus those who have given up looking for them) is nearly 17 percent.

On the international front, despite President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and his increased use of drones along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border (decisions conservatives support and liberals are unhappy with) a majority of Americans disapprove of Obama’s counterterrorism and foreign policies.

The majority of Americans disapprove of Obama decisions to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 terrorists in a New York courtroom, close Guantanamo, and investigate CIA interrogators.

Most Americans have concluded that Obama’s highly vaunted policy of engaging with America’s enemies has gotten him nowhere. Nothing the US has done in the past 11 months prohibits North Korea from expanding its inventory of nuclear weapons. Nothing stands in the way of Iran acquiring them.

Obama is not on the ballot in 2010 and “all politics is local,” but the critical mass of moderates and independents Obama brought to the polls in 2008 aren’t likely to turn out next November. Neither are many disappointed Democrats. But you can sure that voters dissatisfied with how Democrats voted on the stimulus, healthcare, and cap and trade bills will turn out. Remember the lopsided Republican victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections this year?

Respected political scientists like the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato believe it’s highly unlikely in 2010 that Republicans can win enough seats in the House and Senate to take back control of both houses of Congress. Historical trends support his analysis.

Democrats know they will lose seats. A new presidential administration almost always does in their first mid-term election. But they are hoping the Tea-Party movement will back strict conservative candidates running as independents that will take votes away from Republicans, as they did in the 23rd Congressional District of New York this year, minimizing Democrat's losses.

Bold, and often wrong, new-year predictions are an American tradition, however. I’m predicting that if the current trend prevails, Republicans will regain control of both houses of Congress. American elections are where the voters play Santa Claus, and they remember who’s been naughty or nice. They tend to give candidates what they deserve, not what they want.



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