Problems abound with single party control|
J. Randolph Evans
Georgia Online News Service
Amidst all those smiling faces on the platform for the inauguration of the 44th President, real power struggles had already begun. As history confirms, the challenges in governing can be far greater when the same political party controls both the legislative and executive branches.
Seemingly, it should be easy. After all, Democrats control the White House with a popular President who has lots of political capital to spend; the House of Representatives where their margins are the largest in decades; and, the U. S. Senate where they have filibuster proof control.
[On this last point, no one should kid themselves. Democrats effectively have filibuster proof control in the Senate. Democrats have 56 (or 57 if Al Franken is counted) votes outright. With the two independents (who vote with them on procedural issues), Democrats have 58 (or 59 counting Al Franken) of the requisite 60 votes to end a filibuster. Then, significantly, on any given issue, there are from two to six Republicans who vote with the Democrats to end filibusters. If the truth be told: while Saxby Chambliss' election was important, the battle for preventing Democrats from having a filibuster proof majority was lost on election day, not won in Georgia's run-off election.]
The fact is governing with control of both the executive and legislative branches is difficult. As the party in control, Democrats in 2009 (like the Republicans in 2001) now have to answer the $64,000 question of "how?"
And, therein lies the rub. Different folks have very different ideas on what to do next – even within the same political party. Already, the existence of these differences in approach have already started to peak out from the blanket of adulation and adoration with the comments from both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the Congress does not work for the President. Translated, both leaders are saying, "It is not just the President, we have ideas too."
Of course, President Obama, as most Presidents, has a pretty clear picture of what he wants to do and is committed to doing it. There is much of it that he can do through the people he appoints, or through various executive actions including Executive Orders. But, in the end, the fact remains that the really, really big things will require action and participation by the Congress.
Now within the Congress, specifically the majority caucuses in the House and Senate, there will be essentially four groups – "happy to be in control" Democrats, ideological public servants, political pragmatists, and self-interested politicians.
At the beginning, the largest group will be the "happy to be control" group. These Senators and Representatives will be willing to do pretty much whatever the President and the Democratic leadership want. When they all agree, there is no problem. And, for the first 100 days or so, the focus will be on the agenda items on which they all largely agree (known in the political world as the "political low hanging fruit."). However, once those items are done, and choices have to be made, it gets tricky.
Political neophytes offer a simple solution: just always agree. Well, it is not that easy.
If the Speaker always gives into the President, then she becomes a little more than another agent of the Administration. (Indeed, many believe that this is exactly what happened to Speaker Dennis Hastert during his speakership with President Bush. Typically, this kind of relationship does not work out so well for the Speaker.)
If the President always gives into the Speaker, then it is a weakened Presidency. (Really, this option is not an option at all, and when it does happen, the President does not survive too long.)
Then, there is the option of actually having disagreements on occasion. Resolving disagreements means choices. In the legislative branch, choices are made by votes. But, because all of these folks are so good at counting votes before votes are actually cast, these disagreements are resolved in the back rooms of the Capitol. Even then, the choices are no less real. Support the President or stay with the Speaker.
This complicated world of intra-party politics is magnified tenfold in the United States Senate.
And then, there are the added dynamics of former Congressman Rahm Emanuel's selection as White House Chief of Staff and former Senator Joe Biden's selection as Vice President. Both men know well the inner workings of the House and Senate, respectively. More significantly, they each have their own power bases within the House Democratic Conference and the Senate Democratic Conference.
It sounds scary just describing it. Those who thought that the public spats between Governor Sonny Perdue and Speaker Glenn Richardson in Georgia were unacceptable may want to just close their eyes or look away.
J. Randolph Evans is a long-time Republican strategist and the chair of the Financial Institutions practice at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. [full bio]