Letter from Washington - October 2016

The following article by Tom Fina, Executive Director Emeritus for Democrats Abroad, reminds us all of the necessity of continuing our get out the vote efforts to ensure a Democratic House and Senate.

Letter from Washington
Tom Fina
Executive Director Emeritus

The print and electronic media are brimming with campaign news. Election day is less than two weeks away. The near consensus prediction is that Hillary Clinton will win. On that assumption, what happens the morning, the weeks and the months after?

The morning after, will Donald go quietly into the night? Fat chance. Will he continue his campaign to de-legitimize Clinton’s election as he tried to discredit Obama with his birther campaign? Probably.

The weeks after will be the lame duck interval before Hillary Clinton is inaugurated on January 20. Three over-arching issues will face the still Republican controlled Congress: funding the government, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. 

Obama is working with Republicans for TPP approval. But, with both Clinton and Trump opposed to it, the prospects for its approval are pretty dim.

Mitch McConnell will be faced with the choice of allowing Garland to be confirmed or risking Clinton nominating a more liberal successor to Scalia. If Democrats pick up enough seats to be able to confirm without Republican votes, McConnell may well decide that confirming Garland is the lesser evil. He may also have in mind that a frustrated Democratic majority might be able change the Senate rules to allow approval of Supreme Court nominees by a simple majority rather than the 60 votes now needed.

Government funding now runs out on December 9. Republicans would be blamed for another government shut-down so they will want an extension of the funding in a Continuing Resolution until sometime after Inauguration Day. That would put the question of the 2017 budget in the hands of the new congress and the new president.

The months after Inauguration become the “first 100 days” during which FDR launched the titanic reforms of the New Deal. Clinton has limned her hundred days agenda.

At the top of the agenda is a massive investment in infrastructure of nearly $300 billion described as the largest infrastructure investment since Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. Its aim is both to repair and modernize our national infrastructure and to create jobs in both urban and rural areas across the United States. Clinton states that the spending on bridges, roads, waterways, public transit and expansion on broadband, together with her other proposals,  could generate some 10 million new jobs by the end of her first term.

Immigration reform with a path to citizenship is the other lead legislation that she will send to Congress. It is the issue that has split the Republican Party during the Presidential campaign and given Clinton the overwhelming support of the increasingly powerful Hispanic electorate. Clinton has also promised to propose legislation to raise the Federal minimum wage, to block corporate “inversions” (relocating to foreign low tax havens), closing the hedge fund manager tax loophole, fine tune Obamacare, tighten gun controls, making the US the world leader in clean energy and clean energy jobs, greater protection for voter rights, proposing a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s  Citizens United decision and naming women to half of her cabinet positions.

She will be unable to move on all of the policies laid out in the 50 pages of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform in the first hundred days. But she may be able to jump start a modestly left of center Administration in those first few months.

Whether Clinton’s plans for the first hundred days become legislative reality or will be remembered as pie in the sky depends upon who controls the Senate and House. As of today, the consensus opinion is that Democrats will have a slim majority in the Senate but not the 60 seats necessary to overcome a filibuster. And, while Democrats will pick up seats in the House, they will not capture the 30 seats needed to return Pelosi as Speaker.

Secretary Clinton knows perfectly well that her plans depend upon Republican votes in both houses. She has said that she will reach out to Republicans to try to work with them. Under the best of circumstances that would probably mean scaling back on the size of the infrastructure investment and on some aspects of immigration reform.

The conundrum at this date is how much flexibility the post-election Republicans will have. They are constrained by two powerful realities. First, is the Trump Trap. Because of the top to bottom split in the Republican Party over Trump, Republican candidates and elected officers are caught in a trap. If they fail to say they will not support or vote for Trump, they will lose the votes of half the usual Republican base. If they do say that they will neither support or vote for Trump, they will lose the other half - the angry Republican Trump base. That is why McConnell and Ryan and most other Republican members of congress refuse to be clearly for or against him. Second, is the expectation that the 2018 elections will favor Republicans in the Senate because Democrats will have more seats to defend. McConnell does not want to alienate any potential voters by compromising with the “nasty woman”.

Ryan has an even more serious problem. Steve Bannon, Trump’s ultra-right wing CEO, and Trump want to force Speaker Ryan out as Boehner was forced out in 2015 by the right wing Freedom Caucus. It is already working to replace him with one of its group when Ryan is up for re-election sometime in mid-November. His prospects are rather shaky.

Thus, while both McConnell and Ryan have been supportive of immigration reform and infrastructure spending, their ability to compromise with Clinton is likely to be very very limited. That helps to explain why the Clinton campaign is making an all-out effort in these final days of the campaign to elect Democrats to both Senate and House. The success of that emphasis will determine how much of Clinton’s agenda can be accomplished.