After using Republican obstructionism as his excuse for eighteen previous recess appointments, Obama has had a change of heart. Dr. Donald Berwick, appointee to head the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services will face the Senate for confirmation hearings.
The change of heart isn’t a result of newfound cooperation on behalf of the Republicans, as they have looked forward to exposing Berwick, holding his statements on healthcare rationing and wealth redistribution up to public scrutiny.
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For Obama, the political risk associated with a recess appointment isn’t negated by saying, “Just kidding!” and sending the appointee through the appropriate channels. So many are left wondering what Obama’s motivation could be in forcing the Senate Democrats into a tough vote so close to a mid-term election where Republicans are already expecting massive gains.
Passing the buck on Berwick’s confirmation suggests two things: (1) Someone in Obama’s administration recognizes that he is 0-5 on candidate endorsements, and (2) Obama’s given up on the hope that he can save his party.
Obama no longer appears eager to proclaim that, “The difference between 2010 and 1994 is me.” Perhaps we are no longer the one’s we have been waiting for?
A repeat of 1994 not in question. In Clinton’s first mid-term election, Congressional Democrats saw a 54-seat loss, which looks like the bare minimum to be expected this November. Some election models are predicting as many as 51 to 90 seats turning red. As far-fetched as such gains might sound, it’s not entirely unlikely.
Today’s Democrats have to answer for unemployment that is nearly double the 5.3% seen in 1994, and for their votes in passing both ObamaCare and the Wall Street Reform bills.
Add to that an energized Tea Party that is 20% more likely than the average American to vote in November, and it’s clear why even Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says it is “obvious” that Democrats are likely to lose control of Congress.
The Senate isn’t going to turn red, since Democrats only have 16 of their 58 seats up for re-election this year. However with a Republican House, that’s 16 more than they can afford to lose.
When seen in this context, Obama’s motivation in risking the Democratic Senate seats that are up for re-election becomes clearer. He’s gone from the first stage of grief, denial—and he has moved to stage five, acceptance.
After all, Obama doesn’t really need Democrats to control both houses so long as he controls the White House. He’s already achieved what the equally-charismatic Clinton couldn’t in passing ObamaCare, and was able to keep from breaking at least one of his campaign promises. Obama hasn’t, however, put an end to the Patriot Act, closed Gitmo, or ended the War on Terror—well, technically he did end the war, as America is now fighting in “Overseas Contingency Operations”.
None of these broken promises have gone over well with his base, but without Democratic control of Congress, he could easily continue his “party of no” meme and blame Republicans—only this time, it would be a plausible excuse.
Clinton’s approval rating went up sharply after the Democrats lost Congress, and never dropped back down to pre-1994 election levels. Therein lies the greatest potential benefit to Obama of handing a blank check on Congressional and Senate seats over to the GOP: A repeat of 1994 could mean a repeat of 1996.
If Obama still plans to govern for “8-10 years” he has to remain a figurehead and distance himself from the decision-making that is expected of a president whose party monopolizes control. Throwing Democratic Senators under the bus is a small price to pay for a second term. Considering how long the ObamaCare debates and votes dragged out when he had a supermajority in Congress and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, there’s no reason to think that he would be much worse off after a repeat of 1994. Even if his agenda did lose additional momentum under two-party leadership, the inevitability of Republican gains would still be preferable over minimal mid-term losses and losing the presidency in 2012.
Bouncing Berwick their way is as good a sign as any that Obama doesn’t care about Democrats’ ability to distance themselves from his agenda and have a good chance at re-election. Should his decision to rescind Berwick’s recess appointment backfire, he can always find someone else—there is no shortage of Harvard-educated fans of socialized medicine. To Obama, everyone is disposable.
There’s not much chance that the Democrats can prevent the hemorrhaging of blue seats this November. If they’re smart, they’ll be thankful that at least under Obama’s bus he can’t give the ultimate kiss of death and campaign for them. Maybe if they’re lucky and Obama’s strategy works out, they can wait patiently for another 2006 to come along.
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