Reacting to their angrily-energized and ever-leftward-moving base, congressional Democrats, with their House of Representatives majority, seek President Donald Trump’s head. But they may find themselves the victim of their own guillotine.
The 112th and 113th Congresses, convening from 2011 to 2014, saw the fewest number of laws enacted in the modern era. And it’s no mystery why: one party controlled the Executive and the House of Representatives, while the other controlled the Senate. Unlike during the Nixon and Ford era when conservatism was dormant, there lay precious little public policy common ground between Big-Government Democrats and economic growth-loving Republicans.
Compare the GOP majorities of both houses of the 115th Congress, joining with Trump to cut tax rates on personal and corporate income, reduce the regulatory burden on business, open access to new domestic energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate. The boost in economic growth and expansion in employment since make it hard to withhold credit.
Compare also the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in the 111th Congress, which with Democrats also in control of the House and the presidency enacted Obamacare, a massive fiscal stimulus, and the Dodd-Frank banking regulatory regime.
The obvious conclusion is that with such disparity in aims between a Republican Party under conservative free-market dominance and Democrats who are evermore socialist-friendly, little happens under divided rule.
This fact was never more apparent than on September 8, 2011, a low point for the Barack Obama presidency, when it was so clear that his massive fiscal stimulus was failing to turn the economy around, he arranged a special address to a Joint Session of Congress to push yet another stimulus.
The same stage in Donald Trump’s presidency would be less than four months from now.
Doing Something — The Wrong Something
“The question,” President Obama declared, “is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.” But Obama and his party had just had two years of control of the White House, the Senate and the House — 2009 and 2010 — to do something. And they did quite a lot, in particular an $831 billion “Recovery Act” spending extravaganza signed into law the month after Obama took office that failed to deliver a recovery for the economy.
So the “American Jobs Act” — a doubling down on the same failed approach — could be expected similarly not to deliver jobs. But an agitated President telling the assembled senators and congressmen on national television no less than 17 times to “pass this jobs bill,” “pass this jobs plan,” or “you should pass it right away” might make Congress look unresponsive and absolve the chief executive.
Obama referred to it by its full name no fewer than seven times, at the halfway point even almost comically saying, “This is the American Jobs Act.”
It was the most acerbic speech of his presidency, and he couldn’t resist taking swipes at an opposition party espousing ideas on the opposite end of the spectrum. “Everyone here knows that small businesses are where most new jobs begin. And you know that while corporate profits have come roaring back, smaller companies haven’t. So for everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for ‘job creators,’ this plan is for you.”
He took a naked swipe at Americans For Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, whose anti-tax pledge has been keeping Republicans in Washington honest for decades. “I know that some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live,” Obama told the lawmakers. “Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away.” He also boasted that more than two and a half years after taking office, “I’ve brought together a Jobs Council” of industry representatives.
In spite of this frustration, and despite his “jobs bill” failing in the Senate the following month, Obama was re-elected in 2012; American history shows it to be very difficult to defeat an incumbent President. The last time, 1992, a very strong third-party candidate, in Ross Perot, played spoiler.
Two Presidents’ Very Different Third Years
The difference for Trump at nearly the same point in his first term is jarring. Like Obama, he is faced with one hostile house of Congress. Thus it is impossible to enact major legislation. But unlike Obama, he enjoys an economy going his way.
Obama did take the Harry Truman approach, casting Congress as the enemy. “If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a ‘do nothing’ Congress. If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town.”
But if the Democrat-majority House continues to insist on spending this year and next year fishing for something they think can lead to the President’s impeachment, Trump can trump Truman and run a “do one thing” Congress out of town.
That could ensure the President’s re-election next year, since the public is Mueller-fatigued already today and would view never-ending aggressive investigation by Congress negatively. But it could also prevent the kind of bipartisan spending increases Trump would like to join with Democrats to enact — expenditures that are the last thing our profligate federal government needs when its out-of-control spending is already on the rise.
— Written by Thomas McArdle
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