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January 28, 2015

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Our crystal ball sees either stasis or reform

Another view?

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Let’s try to imagine what the world would look like if President Barack Obama is re-elected.

Washington over the next four years would probably look much as it has over the past two: Obama running the White House, Republicans controlling the House and Democrats managing the Senate. We’d have had a long slog of an election before a change-hungry electorate, and we’d end up with pretty much the same cast of characters as before.

Obama probably would try to enact the agenda he laid out most clearly in his recent interview with the Des Moines Register:

Obama said he would try to recreate the Obama-Boehner budget deal of two summers ago, with $2.50 of spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Then he’d try immigration reform. Then he’d cut corporate tax rates as part of corporate reform. Then he’d “weed out” unnecessary regulations. All the while, he would implement Obamacare and increase funds for infrastructure. This is a moderate and sensible agenda.

The first order of business would be the budget deal, averting the fiscal cliff. Obama would go to Republicans in the Senate and say, “Look, we’re stuck with each other. Let’s cut a deal for the sake of the country.” He would easily find 10 Republican senators willing to go along with a version of a Grand Bargain.

Then Obama would go to the House. He’d ask Eric Cantor, the majority leader, if there were votes for such a deal. The answer would probably be no. Republican House members still have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right than from a general election challenge from the left. Obama is tremendously unpopular in their districts. By running such a negative presidential campaign, Obama has won no mandate for a Grand Bargain. Obama is not going to suddenly turn into a master legislative craftsman on the order of Lyndon B. Johnson.

There’d probably be a barrage of recriminations from all sides. The left and right would be consumed with ire and accusations. Legislators would work out some set of fudges and gimmicks to kick the fiscal can down the road.

The ensuing bitterness would doom any hopes for bipartisan immigration reform. The rest of the Obama second term would be about reasonably small things: some new infrastructure programs; more math and science teachers; implementing Obama-care; mounting debt; a president increasingly turning to foreign affairs in search of legacy projects.

If you’re a liberal Democrat, this is an acceptable outcome. Your party spent 80 years building the current welfare state. This outcome extends it.

Now let’s try to imagine the world if Mitt Romney were to win. Republicans would begin with the premise that the status quo is unsustainable. The mounting debt is ruinous. The byzantine tax and regulatory regimes are stifling innovation and growth.

Republicans would like to take the reform agenda that Republican governors have pursued in places like Indiana and implement it at the national level: structural entitlement reform, fundamental tax reform. These reforms wouldn’t make government unrecognizable (we’d probably end up spending 21 percent of GDP in Washington instead of about 24 percent), but they do represent a substantial shift to the right.

At the same time, Romney probably would be faced with a Democratic Senate. He also would observe the core lesson of this campaign: Conservatism loses; moderation wins. Romney’s prospects began to look decent only when he shifted to the center. A President Romney would look at the way Tea Party extremism had cost the GOP Senate seats in Delaware and Nevada — and possibly Missouri and Indiana.

To get re-elected in a country with a rising minority population and a shrinking Republican coalition, Romney’s shape-shifting nature would induce him to govern as a center-right moderate. To get his tax and entitlement reforms through the Democratic Senate, Romney would have to make some serious concessions: increase taxes on the rich as part of an overall reform; abandon the most draconian spending cuts in Paul Ryan’s budget; reduce the size of his lavish tax-cut promises.

As President Romney made these concessions, conservatives would be in uproar. Talk-radio hosts would be the ones accusing him of Romneysia, forgetting all the promises he made in the primary season. There’d probably be a primary challenge from the right in 2016.

But Republicans in Congress would probably go along. They wouldn’t want to destroy a Republican president. Romney would champion enough conservative reforms to allow some Republicans to justify their votes.

The bottom line is this: If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis; if Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform. Romney is more of a flexible flip-flopper than Obama. He has more influence over the most intransigent element in the Washington equation: House Republicans. He’s more likely to get big stuff done.

David Brooks is a columnist for The New York Times.

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  1. Mr. Brooks is exactly right. Bravo!


  2. David Brooks is a warmongering big government statist Republican. He's hardly right and not close to correct here. If Republicans win it will be just like if Democrats win. More kicking the can down the road on fiscal reform. More fake budget cuts....

  3. "If Republicans win it will be just like if Democrats win. More kicking the can down the road on fiscal reform. More fake budget cuts...."

    Sure sure sure. Leave the bums [democrats] in power because the GOP is no better. Only one big problem with that logic. It's bad policy.


  4. David Brooks gives me the first laugh of my day presenting the case for a "flexible flip flopper" President.

    If Romney is elected, I guess we can call him President Flip Flopper?
    Of all the significant jobs the President has, passing legislation is not one of them. He can try to influence and urge passage, as Obama has done. Then, he can sign or veto the legislation.

    Congress writes and passes legislation. Consider the following:


    Passing legislation is Congresses responsibility, for which they receive $174,000, the best healthcare benefits in the country, life insurance, a pension of $61,000 per year.

    The Majority and Minority Leaders from the Senate and House (4) receive $193,400. per year. The Speaker of the House receives $223,500 per year.

    CONGRESSIONAL BENEFITS (Paid by members):

    The annuity pension can be collected at any age after serving 25 years in Congress, at age 50 after 20 years, and age 62 for less than 20 years, providing they have served at least 5 years. They also participate in Social Security and a Thrift Savings Plan, similar to a 401K plan.

    The total taxpayer expenditure for the Congressional salaries alone is $93,217,100 per year. Add to that the COLA increases if they vote for it.

    Additionally, the cost of staff and office should be added to the cost of Congress for which allowances are given to each member, with a 2012 average of $1,518,009.

    For an annual salary and expense allowance the average total cost for Congressional members is $812,295,315.00. Congress should be responsible enough to work in a bipartisan way, compromising on legislation to get it passed.

    Our Congress has not earned their taxpayer paid salaries and expense allowances of over $812 million per year. They have not been responsible servants of the people. They have acted like toddlers throwing partisan tantrums.

    The problem is the Congress, who are wasting taxpayer dollars and giving us little to nothing.

    The President proposes and urges, and the Congress disposes.

    The current Congress has not disposed, only opposed! That should have brought people into the streets in outrage.

    Proposing legislation is only one part of the many roles of the President, including foreign policy, economy, military/defense, running the government. He deals with the Cabinet, CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, and much more.

    Every President takes time for their own recreation, which is a healthy outlet for all persons with heavy responsibility's, and is not something any President should be criticized for.

    If President Obama wins reelection, Congress should be taken to task if they don't start acting like responsible adults, earning their salaries and allowances, and start working in a bipartisan way, compromising and passing legislation, especially significant legislation, such as budgets.

    They need to put partisan ideology aside and do some real work.