When did the White House lose Congress?

By Felix Salmon
June 15, 2009

It’s probably inevitable that all presidents reach the point at which they run into Congressional roadblocks. But given the mandate which was handed to Barack Obama in November, and the fact that Democrats control both the House and the Senate, it’s disappointing to see the way in which both cap-and-trade and regulatory reform are being changed out of all recognition in a desperate attempt to make them acceptable to the Senate.

David Roberts has an excellent column on the political realities of cap-and-trade (and bear in mind here that all the major Republican presidential candidates supported some kind of cap-and-trade bill; John McCain even sponsored one):

Republicans have settled on a strategy of blanket opposition to both the health care and climate legislation… They’ve decided that Democratic successes on either of these major initiatives could fuel further electoral losses, and that’s their worst fear…

It can’t be overstated how much unified Republican opposition is shaping things. The debate is entirely between Democrats, entirely along regional lines, and “moderate” Democrats (i.e. those hailing from carbon-intensive districts) have been accorded enormous power…

In the Senate, there are maybe two Republican yes votes—the last moderates standing, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine. That means to get cloture, Dems can lose no more than two votes from their own caucus. Meanwhile, there are far more than two senators on the fence (at best) or likely nos (at worst): Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Evan Bayh (Indiana), Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor (Arkansas), and several others.

Meanwhile, John Gapper has concluded, reasonably enough, that “the US administration has clearly decided that it simply cannot get any large-scale consolidation of regulation through Congress, given the vested interests involved.”

How did Obama manage to spend all his political capital so quickly? Did it all go on the stimulus bill? Wasn’t the whole point of bringing Rahm in as chief of staff that he could work constructively with Congress to pass an ambitious agenda? And isn’t Obama himself the first president since JFK to have entered the White House from the Senate? I’m not sure when everything went wrong here, but I fear that the damage is now irreparable — and that Obama’s agenda is going to be severely scaled back as a result.

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