Since I have never really liked the Christmas season [it is one long interminable weekend, in which nothing happens and one is required to be cheerful], I shall amuse myself by making some predictions about how things will play out in the new Congress. A very large number of truly appalling people are joining the Congress in January, so there should be endless occasions for snarking. But what will the Republican control of the House and an enlarged majority in the Senate actually mean for America, and for 2012 politics?
The easy part first -- the Senate will not be more intractable than it has been, and if the move now afoot to limit the filibuster actually succeeds in making marginal adjustments, may actually be a bit less so. It requires a two-thirds majority to change Senate rules -- a non-starter -- but only a majority to alter the ways in which the filibuster is used. So, for example, the procedures may be altered so that the forty-one senators claiming to be filibustering will actually have to be on the floor of the Senate. Won't that be a hoot?
The big reactionary action will be in the House. That is Tea Party turf, and there are a goodly number of newly elected Republicans coming to Washington to tear the place down. They will spend a lot of time and energy trying to repeal the Health Care Reform bill, and will of course fail [repeal cannot get through the Senate, and in any case would be vetoed.] However, they will make very serious, and in some cases probably successful, efforts to defund, or underfund, the provisions they especially hate. This is, in my view, a bad thing, but not a disaster, because the law is going to take years to implement fully, and should the Democrats retake control of the House in 2012, which I actually expect, the funding will be restored. The history of major pieces of social legislation like this one is that they never go away. They are revised, they grow, they take root, and they become part of the social and economic landscape -- see Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Medicare Drug Benefit, Unemployment Insurance, and so forth.
A great deal of effort will be expended in discontinuing Social Security and Medicare, without the slightest chance for success. Nor will the Republicans manage to get rid of Unemployment Insurance.
The major focus of the new right-wingers will be on cutting the budget, as a way of cutting the deficit without raising taxes. But that is going to turn out to be a great deal harder than they imagine. Some of them -- the Rand Paulines -- are ready to slash the defense budget, and I wish them success in that endeavor, but they will run into fierce opposition from their own fellow Republicans, and will get no help from any but the farthest left of the Democrats. So they will whittle away at the Consumer Protection Agency, the Center for Disease Control, the Department of Education, and the like. There, they will manage to do some real damage, but not to save much money, since there is not much money in those pots.
Obama will push immigration reform, which they will fight tooth and nail, thereby ensuring that an even larger majority of Hispanic Americans vote Democratic despite being social conservatives. The self-destructiveness of the Republicans is a joy to behold.
Freaked out by the Tea Party and the Palinites, every Republican presidential hopeful [there seem to be several dozen of them] will tack as far to the right as possible without falling off the edge of the earth [which they will all be prepared, if asked, to say they think is flat], and this will make Republicans leery about compromising with the Democratically controlled Senate.
Oh yes, a hefty minority of Republicans will refuse to vote for an increase in the Federal debt limit, but Wall Street has not paid all that money to Republicans [or to Democrats] to see anyone play fast and loose with the soundness of the dollar, so that will fail also.
In short, this is going to be a very long cold shower for the ostensible winners of the 2010 off-year elections. I think we will find some real opportunities for schadenfreude.