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What will be the biggest po­lit­i­cal sur­prise of 2011?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

ED ROGERS Chair­man of BGR Group; White House staffer to Ron­ald Rea­gan and Ge­orge H.W. Bush

The biggest po­lit­i­cal sur­prise in 2011 may come in the form of the shock pro­duced by pub­lic-sec­tor la­bor strikes and demon­stra­tions that could stray into civil dis­or­der as state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments cut bud­gets. Govern­ment work­ers could be laid off by the thou­sands, and mil­lions of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of govern­ment-supplied salaries, pen­sions and ben­e­fits could see re­duc­tions in pay and pro­gram al­lowances they have been told to ex­pect.

The same kind of protests that have rocked Paris, London and Rome could erupt in Cal­i­for­nia, New York and Illi­nois.

We are head­ing into un­charted po­lit­i­cal ter­ri­tory as state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments face the re­al­ity that prom­ises can’t be kept. Will the union­ized govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions go down with­out a fight? Will the de­pen­dent class of Amer­i­cans that govern­ment has cre­ated just shrug and ac­cept the spend­ing-cut medicine?

The schism be­tween the gov­erned and those gov­ern­ing could be­come greater than ever as the govern­ment tries to pro­tect it­self for its own sake and not for the pub­lic good. The mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who have lost jobs or face in­creas­ing eco­nomic un­cer­tainty re­sent the rel­a­tive pos­ter­ity and se­cu­rity that govern­ment now pro­vides for it­self. Pres­i­dent Obama will say he is for more “stim­u­lus,” but even the money-mak­ing print­ing presses in­Wash­ing­ton are at their lim­its.

Be­sides, with a Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the House and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell hav­ing veto power in the Se­nate, there will not be a bailout from Washington.

Fas­ten your seat belts; there is trou­ble ahead.

JEN­NIFER PALMIERI Pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress Ac­tion Fund; deputy press sec­re­tary in the Clin­ton White House

Repub­li­can ef­forts to re­peal health care-re­form will do more to sell the pub­lic on the ben­e­fits of the Af­ford­able Care Act (ACA) than any ed­u­ca­tion ef­forts to date.

De­spite hav­ing spent more than a year wran­gling over the bill, Congress has yet to have a true de­bate over health care — a dis­cus­sion in which both sides put for­ward pol­icy ideas and the two ap­proaches are com­pared. That’s not what hap­pened with health care. Democrats put for­ward ideas and crit­ics at­tacked them, of­ten un­truth­fully. It was the ACA vs. the per­fect. Such was the pre­rog­a­tive of the mi­nor­ity; they could sit on the side­lines and take pot shots with­out ever hav­ing to launch a pol­icy of­fen­sive of their own. The re­sult has been a per­pet­u­a­tion of myths and con­fu­sion about the leg­is­la­tion en­acted in March.

The me­dia is some­what com­plicit in abet­ting this one-sided de­bate. To their credit, some Repub­li­cans, such as Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), put for­ward al­ter­na­tive pol­icy ideas, but since Repub­li­can pro­pos­als had no chance of be­ing en­acted, they re­ceived lit­tle cov­er­age.

This year will be dif­fer­ent. Ef­forts to re­peal the ACA will spur cov­er­age and dis­cus­sion of what the bill ac­tu­ally does. Repub­li­can al­ter­na­tives will be scru­ti­nized, and the virtues of the ACA will be weighed against these pro­pos­als — not against the per­fect.

The re­peal de­bate gives sup­port­ers of the Af­ford­able Care Act a do-over in ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic on the mer­its of the bill. Let’s take it.

DAN SCH­NUR Di­rec­tor of the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Un­ruh In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics; com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for John McCain’s 2000 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign

The biggest po­lit­i­cal sur­prise of 2011 would be if the con­sen­sus that marked the lame-duck con­gres­sional ses­sion of 2010 con­tin­ued into the new year. Such op­por­tu­ni­ties ex­ist in ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy, where the in­ex­pli­ca­ble Repub­li­can re­luc­tance to join into what is es­sen­tially an ad­min­is­tra­tion as­sault on union or­tho­doxy could dis­si­pate, lead­ing to more sig­nif­i­cant progress on topics such as teacher com­pen­sa­tion and re­ten­tion. They ex­ist on en­ergy, where the death of cap-and-trade clears the way for a pas­sel of sub­si­dies and in­cen­tives for ex­plo­ration and in­no­va­tion. Progress could come in in­ter­na­tional trade, where the White House and the GOP lead­er­ship have edged far­ther away from the wall­builders who pop­u­late the grass roots of both par­ties.

But even more star­tling would be pas­sage of the DREAM Act, which could oc­cur only if Repub­li­cans de­cided to con­front the de­mo­graphic freight train headed their way with some­thing more sub­stan­tive than kinder and gen­tler lan­guage, and if the pres­i­dent de­cided that this por­tion of im­mi­gra­tion re­form de­served more of his time and at­ten­tion than a quar­terly meet­ing with the Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus. The GOP suc­ceeded last year in forc­ing more strin­gent pa­ram­e­ters on the bill’s re­quire­ments, but achiev­ing an agree­ment will prob­a­bly re­quire even tougher re­stric­tions on le­gal­iza­tion for fam­ily mem­bers. The re­sult­ing com­pro­mise could at­tract sup­port from the po­lit­i­cal cen­ter but will also bring howls of ou­trage from the true be­liev­ers on both sides of the fight. Which would make com­pro­mise on this is­sue the biggest sur­prise of all.

DOU­GLAS E. SCHOEN

Demo­cratic poll­ster and author

The biggest po­lit­i­cal sur­prise of 2011 will be the emer­gence of a po­ten­tially se­ri­ous third-party can­di­date for pres­i­dent in 2012. There is sim­ply too much dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Washington and with our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem for this not to hap­pen.

With the over­all fis­cal health of the nation ar­guably more per­ilous than it was when Ross Perot sur­pris­ingly emerged as a third-party can­di­date in 1992, there is ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve that the dy­nam­ics are even more con­ge­nial than they were 18 years ago.

More­over, polling that I have done shows that in ex­cess of 60 per­cent of Amer­i­cans want a third­party can­di­date. Trial heats that I con­ducted shortly be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tion found that 15 to 25 per­cent now say that they would vote for dif­fer­ent third-party can­di­dates, depend­ing on the var­i­ous match-ups.

Don’t ex­pect that a third-party can­di­date will be one of the usual sus­pects. More likely, it will be some­one who has yet to run for of­fice — a busi­ness per­son who is sim­ply fed up. Groups of both ac­tivists and well-heeled con­trib­u­tors around the coun­try are al­ready talk­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity, given the dis­af­fec­tion that ex­ists.

ROBERT SHRUM Demo­cratic strate­gist and se­nior fel­low at New York Uni­ver­sity’s Wag­ner School of Pub­lic Ser­vice

Pres­i­dent Obama will con­found es­tab­lished ex­pec­ta­tions about Afghanistan. Af­ter the sched­uled sum­mer re­view, he will not only be­gin a troop draw­down but also con­firm the 2014 date for com­plete with­drawal. This should be no sur­prise; from health re­form to the re­peal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to the con­clu­sion of com­bat op­er­a­tions in Iraq, Obama has shown that he means what he says. But it will be a sur­prise to those who as­sume that he will yield to pres­sures from the Pen­tagon for more time and buckle to Repub­li­can ac­cu­sa­tions of cut­ting and run­ning.

Then will come the most sur­pris­ing devel­op­ment of all: As the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign intensifies next fall, what the crit­ics call “Obama’s war” will work to Obama’s ad­van­tage. He’ll be for end­ing the con­flict — and Repub­li­cans will be for an open-ended com­mit­ment. In­deed, their hard­lin­ers won’t let any plau­si­ble GOP nom­i­nee do any­thing else. A clear ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans will stand with the pres­i­dent on Afghanistan — at the very time when they’ll fi­nally be sens­ing and feel­ing a re­cov­ery they can be­lieve in.

A year from now, Amer­ica will be on its way out of Afghanistan, the econ­omy will be on a path back to pros­per­ity and Barack Obama will be on the road to a de­ci­sive re­elec­tion.

DANA PERINO

White House press sec­re­tary to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush

I pre­dict the new Congress will do some­thing use­ful right away: Re­verse the ban on good, old­fash­ioned and or­di­nary in­can­des­cent light bulbs. Since the ban passed in 2007, some — and I’m not nam­ing names — have been stock­pil­ing the old bulbs, pick­ing up a pack ev­ery time they pop into a store be­fore the phase­out is com­plete in 2014.

The new bulbs give off a blue-ish tint that casts liv­ing rooms in cold tones, not warm glows, and their high lev­els of mer­cury can be harm­ful if a bulb is bro­ken. The tim­ing of the ban comes just when Amer­i­cans have had it with Washington med­dling in their lives — they draw a line at their lamps.

While sold as a way to cre­ate jobs and save con­sumers money, nei­ther of those claims have come true. In fact, 200 peo­ple in Vir­ginia lost their jobs af­ter a ma­jor man­u­fac­turer of in­can­des­cent bulbs closed. Where are the new­fan­gled bulbs made? China, of course.

A bill to re­peal the ban was in­tro­duced in the House in the fall. Af­ter an­other hol­i­day of blue-ish-look­ing Christ­mas lights and try­ing to read un­der their so-called en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly bulbs, Amer­i­cans will be grate­ful when the in­com­ing chair­man of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, Rep. Fred Up­ton (R-Mich.), flips a switch to re­verse the ban.

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