A question of fairness
For now, answers to fairness questions — for the middle class, on the safety net, on corporate and individual tax rates, on environmental regulation — remain elusive.
“There’s just no question that the capacity of our political system to respond to recognized problems is really weak right now. This last congressional session was one of the least productive since the 19th century,’’ said Jacob Hacker, a professor of political science at Yale University and co-author of “Winner-Take-All Politics,’’ an examination of the influence of business lobbying on growing wage disparities.
“It’s a philosophical debate at one level, and at another level it’s almost an espistemological debate, in the sense that it is a debate about each side denying the claims of the other side,’’ he said.
“The polarization has been asymmetric,’’ he added, “as Republicans have moved farther to the right than Democrats have to the left.’’
Part of the reason is the influence of Tea Party activists, who have repeatedly fielded primary challengers against GOP incumbents they deem too moderate.
Norman Ornstein, a scholar who has long studied the nation’s divisions, drew much attention earlier this year with the release of a book co-authored with Thomas Mann that laid much of the blame for the widening divide on the Republican Party.
The book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” made clear that Democrats also were at fault, but said Republicans had taken polarization to new heights as part of a deliberate political strategy to stymie Obama and win back the White House.
The nonpartisan scholars concluded that the Republican Party “has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
Republicans deny this accusation and say their attempts to remove Democrats’ pet projects from the stimulus package were rejected, as well as their attempts in the Senate to negotiate a bipartisan version of the health care law.
Elections provide opportunities to clarify the issues and settle disputes, with the winner being awarded a mandate and a political honeymoon. But the polarization between party leaders is so vast, and the leftover problems such as debt so severe, that the honeymoon period after the 2012 election is likely to be brief.
Once the ballots are counted Tuesday, Republicans are expected to retain control of the House, where Tea Party forces have pulled the Republican Party further to the right, making it difficult for party leaders to strike deals with Democrats.
It is unclear who will control the Senate. Democrats, including two New England independents who caucus with the party, currently control the chamber by 53 to 47.
The latest polls indicate that Democrats may maintain their majority by a slim margin. In any case, neither party is expected to have anything close to a 60-vote, filibuster-proof Senate majority.
Some Republicans have said that if Romney has a GOP majority in both chambers of Congress, he should drop his rhetoric about working with Democrats and do what Obama did on health care — pass legislation without the need for a single vote from the opposition party. While that could exacerbate divisions, Republicans would likely justify it on grounds that Romney would be following through on the agenda that was the basis of the campaign.
Democrats likely would be just as aggressive in using the filibuster to block Romney’s measures as Republicans were in trying to stop Obama. But it might only take a few conservative Democrats to split with the party and join with Republicans in order to pass Romney’s agenda, particularly if Romney carried the home state of a Democratic senator by a comfortable margin.
Possible GOP strategy
The clash could come to a head if, as many Republicans are urging, Romney tries to implement key parts of his agenda under what is known as a budget “reconciliation” bill, which is not subject to filibuster. It takes the votes of 60 senators to end a filibuster, but a reconciliation bill could go forward with 51 votes.
Ornstein said in an interview that a Romney presidency might actually suffer if Republicans control both the House and Senate. Ramming through deep cuts in a raft of programs, while dramatically increasing defense spending, would inevitably provoke anger as the depths of the reductions in government service become clear.Continued...