5 political realities of the 113th Congress

1. Benghazi is a serious problem for the Obama administration. Four Americans, including the brave ambassador, were killed–and Obama did nothing, except lie to the public afterwards. Benghazi is every bit the scandal many of us thought it was at the time, as Bill Kristol recently noted, and Congress has real leverage to investigate what happened and hold the administration accountable. The confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director is one pressure point; Congress can also set up its own investigative apparatus to probe for the truth. The Obama administration has no defense on this issue, save for the feeble charge that Republicans are hell-bent on politicizing Benghazi–after Obama himself politicized it by falsely blaming an anti-Islamic video.

2. There will be no new taxes and no new hikes in tax rates. Obama and the Democrats are insisting on new tax hikes and new revenues from closing tax loopholes. There’s a slim chance they will get the latter, but zero chance they will get the former. Speaker of the House John Boehner would immediately lose his job for entertaining tax hikes after leading a (partial) retreat on tax hikes in the fiscal cliff talks in late 2012. The GOP majority itself would likely not survive any vote for higher tax rates, or for higher revenues without serious spending cuts. Republicans’ hands are tied–which, ironically, gives the party unusual leverage in budget talks.

3. There is nothing Democrats fear more than the Tea Party. Robert Reich’s recent accusation that the Tea Party is out to “undermine the government of the United States” is partially an attempt to fan left-wing outrage at Republicans over the sequester, but beneath the posturing the Democrats really are scared of the political potential of the movement that swept them from power in 2010. An organized, well-informed, and well-led Tea Party can have tremendous influence in setting the agenda in Washington–not just by holding the GOP accountable but also by convincing Democrats that there is no alternative to compromise on fiscal issues.

4. There is nothing Republicans fear more than the media. The tactics of the Republican leadership are largely aimed at lobbying the mainstream media for better coverage–often in vain. The certainty that the GOP would be blamed for any shutdown of the federal government or any new downgrade of the nation’s debt rating has effectively prevented the Republican Party from making a strong stand on spending cuts or on the debt ceiling. The current tactic of ceding power to Obama and waiting for him to fail, hoping that the media will notice, is fraught with danger and provides little reason for anyone to vote for or support the GOP.

5. Democrats will be able to score victories on most minor issues. By “minor” I mean those issues at the bottom of the list of priorities for American voters, which seem to be the issues at the top of the list for the Obama administration. The GOP is simply too divided (and poorly led) on social issues, gun control, immigration, and even climate change to mount an effective opposition. Nancy Pelosi will be able to peel away at least some Republicans in the House on many issues, enabling her to govern from the minority. If 2014 and 2016 are repeats of the frivolous 2012 campaign, Republicans–and the nation’s finances–are in trouble.

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