In the weeks following Barack Obama’s election as president, we read and heard all about how he would not make the same mistakes that Bill Clinton did early in his first term. Those mistakes cost Democrats the majority in the House for 12 years and the Senate for most of that time, leaving Clinton largely to work with Republicans in Congress on their issues rather than continuing to pursue, for example, HillaryCare.
As Democrats prepare to lose perhaps more seats two weeks from today than even their 54-seat disaster in 1994, it’s pretty clear that they didn’t learn all their lessons.
If we assume that the GOP will take over at least the House majority (a majority in the Senate seems like a long shot), the question becomes: Did Republicans learn more from the Clinton era than Democrats did?
This article in today’s Wall Street Journal suggests that some of them may have:
A number of House Republicans, including some who are likely to be in the leadership, are pushing a post-election strategy aimed at securing concrete legislation, with the goal of showing they can translate general principles into specific action.
Among the ideas is to bring a series of bills to the floor, as often as once a week, designed to cut spending in some way. Longer term, GOP leaders say they recognize they may have to compromise with Democrats in tackling broader problems.
If they recapture the House, Republicans say they are wary of following the example of the class of 1994, which shut down the government in a standoff with President Bill Clinton. Top Republicans contend that passing legislation, or at least making a good faith effort to do so, will earn them more credibility with voters than refusing to waver from purist principles.
“It’s pretty clear the American people expect us to use the existing gridlock to create compromise and advance their agenda,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.). “They want us to come together [with the administration] after we agree to disagree.”
GOP leaders stressed that this depends on the willingness of President Barack Obama to compromise as well. And some say if the post-election atmosphere is especially toxic, such compromises may be difficult.
The article goes on to suggest that the Senate, where there could be as many as eight new GOP members joining Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina in a kind of tea party caucus, might temporarily cede to the House its role as “the more sober institution.” A CNN.com article makes a similar point:
Tea Party activists and the Republican establishment … are now united in the common goal of trying to defeat Democrats on November 2. Look ahead to the next day, and there is a good chance the alliance will begin to show cracks should Tea Party candidates score big wins — especially those running for Senate.
These new lawmakers would immediately become an influential voting bloc with other GOP senators aligning themselves with this group. Republican leaders would have to juggle the demands of a more conservative GOP conference while facing the reality that to pass legislation in the Senate, compromise is a necessity.
My prediction for the Senate — where I think there’s an excellent chance of having five tea-party senators (including DeMint), a good chance of seven and an outside chance at all nine — is that there will be opportunities for compromise within the GOP membership, and between Republicans and Democrats.
But to the degree that these compromises require help from tea-party members, the establishment will have to adopt a new currency. The tea-party folks are coming to Washington precisely because of “compromises” — another word is buy-offs — like the Cornhusker Kickback and Gator Aid in ObamaCare, and all the earmarks secured by the likes of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who is still waging a write-in campaign against Joe Miller, who defeated her in the primary.
If compromise is going to take place, it won’t be on the same kind of terms to which the long-time denizens of Capitol Hill are accustomed. Those are the kinds of compromises that eventually led to the GOP’s self-inflicted downfall.