At last the 111th Congress is history! While various media sources are attempting to give Pres. Obama a political makeover in reality conservatives won on the big issues. Of course there has to be a caveat with that, but we'll get to that later. The most important issue was extending the Bush tax cuts accomplished through the compromise with the President. The second most important issue was the defeat of the Omnibus spending Bill and its replacement with a short-term continuing resolution. These two wins empower the Republicans to set the economic agenda for the next two years. Finally, the defeat of the so-called Dream Act was a major victory for the conservative movement.
The caveat is of course the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and Start Treaty ratification. However in the case of the first it was likely the Supreme Court would eventually overturned Don't Ask Don't Tell anyway given Justice Kennedy's historic support of gay rights issues. The Start Treaty vote does reveal a shocking lack of unity in the Senate Republican Caucus. But also reveals a fundamental flaw in US strategic thinking is affected both parties since the fall of the Soviet Empire. As such it is an issue that was not addressed by the 2010 political campaign and so the ultimate result is not surprising.
While many strong conservatives have bemoaned the tax compromise, given the weakness that was displayed by Senate Republicans during the lame-duck session they instead should congratulate Sen. McConnell on his achievement. It's unclear whether a strategy to block everything to the end of the session would've been successful or instead would've resulted in a RINO rebellion that would've resulted in a complete Democrat victory. It is certainly clear that Republicans need to work for better party discipline if they are going to be effective.
One key thing that has been accomplished is to deny funding for the implementation of Obamacare. The budget victory also gives the Republicans in the House a chance to reduce spending in the 2011 budget. While we can expect the House Republicans to vote the repeal of Obama care as a symbolic gesture, such a measure has no chance the Senate and of course would face Pres. Obama’s certain veto if it were to arrive on his desk. However, by breaking the elements of the Omnibus spending Bill into separate departmental elements (the way it is supposed by done) the Republicans can attach incremental changes to Obamacare forcing the President to veto one bill after another or to accept some changes. The success of such an approach will also be affected by the outcomes of several court challenges that are currently working their way to the Supreme Court.
While the prospects for significant modifications to the so-called health reform bill are problematic, the process will force Senate Democrats who are up for reelection in 2012 to take a stand on various elements of the bill in isolation which may be even less popular than the bill in its entirety. This incremental approach will also have the advantage of not challenging those elements of Obamacare which are popular. It will also maximize the number of presidential vetoes casting him as an obstructionist while avoiding a total government shutdown media circus.
So in conclusion, don’t expect the trend the last few days of the 111th Congress to be indicative of what to expect in the 112th.