The House of Representatives adjourned last week with all the style we have come to expect from the Obama-Pelosi-Reid congress. The normally all but unanimous shout of acclaim to go home turned into a one-vote-margin, roll-call squeaker in which Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to descend from the podium to cast the deciding ballot.
Messy? Yes. But the Democrat’s desperate but brilliant campaign strategy for October depended on winning that vote. How so?
Start with the state of electoral play. According to the latest RealClearPolitics.com tally, the Republicans are leading in eight Senate races with five in the balance. A ten-seat pick up takes control of the chamber.
On the House side, RCP rates the GOP solidly ahead in 207 seats versus 190 for the Democrats and 38 still in play.
In other words, the character of the next Congress, particularly the Senate, remains very much in play.
It doesn’t take a political savant – a Karl Rove or a James Carville – to see that the national upheaval against the Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda is driven by revulsion over the unprecedented and potentially devastating spending of the last two years. That terrifying run-up in spending has been the determinative political fact of this election cycle.
A very large portion of Independents has come to see the combination of spending with tax increases on entrepreneurs and small business owners as devastating to America’s short-term economic recovery and long-term national viability. Anyone schooled in political campaigning knows that such strongly held views – which have remained steady in the polling for more than a year now – will not change before Election Day.
So the normal class warfare arguments and denunciations of any spending cut as ruining this or that sympathetic group have fallen flat — actually, worse than flat. The more Democratic candidates have harped on those long favored themes, the more their poll numbers have declined.
You have got to hand it to the Democratic leadership here in Washington. Yes, their strategy for reviving the economy was an exercise in economic fantasy. Actually, it is just a big payoff to their constituent groups and had little to do with economic revival. What more can you conclude when the president’s own retiring chair of the Council of Economic Advisors turns out to have published a major paper on how taxes of the kind the administration has championed hurt economic growth?
Nevertheless, even if they talk as though they live in an economic fantasyland, they remain in total touch with political reality. They know that, between now and November 2nd, every word, every vote, every news story, every reminder of any kind of their fiscal extravagance weighs on their prospects for holding the Senate and minimizing their losses in the House.
So the name of the campaign game has become change the subject. Through both paid and earned media, this past week saw an across-the-nation wave of personal assault on GOP candidates, particularly Senate candidates.
It was all very insubstantial stuff. You have probably heard every charge by now, but if not, this morning’s L.A. Times includes a good rundown (here http://tiny.cc/wgc37 ). As Jennifer Duffy of Cook’s Political Report told The Times, “If there’s a common thread, it’s that they’re all neophyte candidates, and novices tend to make mistakes…. They have trouble sticking to the stump speech, or they get a question and they over-answer it.”
But the Obama-Pelosi-Reid point – to a large extent missed in the commentary to date – is not to win on the Tea Party weirdness theme. Pundits have focused on the idea that the Democrats are raising doubts about GOP candidates wherever they can, which is true. But far more important, by directing the all-too-willing media in that direction, the Democratic pros have yanked the spotlight away from the fatal facts of Federal spending.
This brings us back to last week’s vote to adjourn. Two items remained on the Congressional docket: the budget and extending the Bush tax rates. For the first time in American history, the Congress adjourned without adopting a budget. Not even a continuing resolution came up for a vote, the normal stratagem when Congress is deadlocked on spending. What I am saying is that this was no accident.
Any budget vote would have put spending back on center stage. The same would have been true of any vote on tax rates. So Pelosi got her troops out of town without a vote on either.
The GOP neophytes are just learning the rules of political discipline. We saw this week that Washington’s Democratic leadership is made up of ice-in-their-veins pros.