By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Yesterday’s election results left no doubt that economic recovery is #1 on the voters’ agenda. Here’s a rule politicians would do well to memorize: When people aren’t thinking with their hormones, they’re thinking with their wallets.
Now we have a House of Representatives that thinks the way to recovery consists of tax cuts and regulatory relief for corporations; and across-the-board budget cuts for every department and agency, excluding only the military and spy establishments.
And we have a Senate that thinks — what? Will Harry Reid come out of his near death experience with courage, or more cowardice?
And Barack Obama, having seemed to forget his own humble origins when he sat down with Big Insurance and Big Pharma to negotiate health care reform, squandered the power the humble masses gave him in 2008. Now will he turn his back on the people who need his attention more than ever, who need his support — materially, emotionally, and spiritually?
I waited to write to you until his press conference today was over, looking for a clue that might answer that question. His has, after all, still great power, should he choose to exercise it on our behalf. If the power of persuasion and reason fail, he holds the trump card. If the House comes up with something that harms us to the benefit of the great corporations that put them in office, and if that something doesn’t die in the Senate, Obama doesn’t have to sign it. He has the power of the veto.
Veto, in Latin, means “I forbid.” What a concept: that the president might forbid the legislature to hurt us.
The best news coming out of Tuesday’s results is that the representatives of corporate power won’t have the power to override the president’s veto. That takes a 2/3 vote in both houses — 67 in the Senate, 292 in the House. In the Senate it looks like the Republicans will have 47 seats, 48 at most. In the house it will be 250 at most, more likely 243.
That means while the Republicans can keep good things from happening, if they decide it’s in their best interests for 2012 to keep the country in a state of paralysis, but they can’t do the kinds of bad things that would hurt us the most.
What is, to me, the money quote in Obama’s press conference is this. He’s talking about how his immediate predecessors, Clinton and Bush, also had to stand before the press and explain why they lost majorities in the mid-term elections. And Obama said:
This is something that I think every President needs to go through because the responsibilities of this office are so enormous and so many people are depending on what we do, and in the rush of activity, sometimes we lose track of the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place.
Do you hear what I hear? I won’t go so far to say this gives me hope, but it does give me reason not to give up on the man. Maybe Tuesday’s outcome got his attention. Maybe I’ll give him a chance to show me.
Meanwhile, it will be fun to see how the taxed-enough-already legislators, with their blood oaths never to vote for anything that increases the deficit, will behave when they’re called upon — early next year — to vote to raise the federal debt limit. This will happen, as surely as the sun rises in the east. It’s not expenditures that will do it, it’s the interest on the national debt. Failure to raise the debt limit will bring the world’s economy to a halt. Will the Republicans threaten a filibuster when Harry Reid brings the authorization to the Senate floor? Will Marco Rubio place a hold on it? What will Rand Paul do in the House? Will Speaker Boehner (or will it be Speaker Cantor?) be able to get him and the other tea party types to put down their dynamite-laden teacups?
The wriggling and backtracking and rationalizations will be a sight to see, for sure.
And what will Reid see as his first legislative priority when Congress reconvenes for the lame duck session in a couple of weeks? What will be soon-to-become-former-Speaker Pelosi’s priorities? Will Obama exercise leadership there? Don’t ask don’t tell? Immigration reform? Extending unemployment compensation?
Our work is far from done. Our job now is to put pressure where we can — and especially on the president — to remember we’re here, we’re watching, and we won’t forget. To quote back to him something he said while I was writing this, in a conference call with volunteers and Democratic party workers,
We didn’t sign up for doing what was easy. We signed up for doing what was right.