After losing badly to President Bush in 2004, there was plenty of soul searching in the Democratic party — but they didn’t choose compromise with the president or his agenda.
After winning re-election, Bush thought he had the “political capital” he needed to push forward major reforms. “Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it,” Bush said to reporters. “It is my style.”
But even though Bush had a substantial majority in both Houses of Congress at first, Democrats successfully blocked nearly all of his second term agenda even before their party took power in Congress in 2006.
Bush’s first item of his agenda was Social Security reform. That quickly died after Democrats whipped up a frenzied reaction, scaring most Republicans away from the issue.
Bush’s energy plan passed, but Democrats defeated one of the key components of that bill to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Republicans acquiesced to tax credits for clean energy and promoted ethanol.
Bush’s tax reform agenda – planning to make his 2001 tax credits permanent and repeal the estate tax – fell through the floor.
Even Bush’s nominee for the ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, failed to get a vote on the Senate floor, forcing Bush to make it a recess appointment.
Bush’s immigration effort fell short in the spring of 2006. Republicans resisted on one side, and on the other, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Democrats refused to grant him any capital on issue as the solidified their inroads with Hispanic voters.
Bush’s only major legislative success was successfully continuing the war in Iraq and reauthorizing the Patriot Act until Democrats took power in the 2006 elections. From there on, Bush was nearly impotent.
President Obama is already facing similar challenges.
Obama will tackle Republicans’ signature issue with the upcoming battle of the fiscal cliff fight. House Republicans wouldn’t survive without this major issue in their quiver, so they might push back harder than the president expects. Obama already has a hurricane cleanup — which he has handled reasonably well thus far — but needs to finish the job before he pursues any further legislation.
Democrats may feel empowered now that Obama was re-elected, but its possible that they may split with the president, if he asks them to jump off of the fiscal cliff.
On immigration, it is unlikely that Obama will pursue anything more serious than the DREAM act, which may get the support of enough nervous Republicans to pass.
Pundits will declare that the election requires some serious “soul searching” from Republicans, calling them to abandon their low-tax and limited government platform. But which is more likely to succeed? Will Republicans drop their resistance to the president’s controversial fiscal policies?
By 2006, Democrats swept into power on Bush’s ineffectiveness, the war in Iraq, and Social Security fears.
Expect Republicans to dig in on their signature issues and block the president as Democrats did. By the time the 2014 mid-terms arrive, expect the party to emerge with a principled – but re-tooled – political narrative for Obama’s second mid-term elections, in which both the Senate map and history will favor them.