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December 15th, 2017

National

7 reasons Hillary Clinton's agenda would founder in Congress

James Hohmann

By James Hohmann The Washington Post

Published August 12, 2016

Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to win a mandate to enact an ambitious economic agenda. During a rally in Des Moines Wednesday afternoon, the Democratic nominee said she could create 10.4 million new jobs as president. "In the first hundred days of my administration, we will make the biggest investment in new jobs, good-paying jobs, since World War II," she said at a high school. "How are we going to do that? Well, we're going to invest in infrastructure - our roads, our bridges, our tunnels, our ports, our airports. . . . We are going to do water systems. We're going to do sewer systems. We are also going to build a modern electric grid."

Clinton added that she's "going to raise the national minimum wage" and "make sure that women finally get equal pay."

"What I believe," she said, "is that . . . we need a campaign that lays out the agenda so people can vote for it, so that when I'm elected, I can tell the Congress, 'This is what the people of America voted for us to do!' "

For the sake of argument, let's just assume Clinton wins. Here are seven reasons why the dynamic on Capitol Hill probably would not change much.

1. Republicans are almost certain to hold the House. The tea party wing might actually wind up with more leverage, not less, after November. Paul Ryan can afford to lose 29 seats, but even a loss of 15 to 20 seats would make his job as speaker much more difficult. "That's because his losses in November would not likely come from Freedom Caucus members in their deeply conservative districts," Paul Kane explains in his column today. "Instead, mainstream Republicans - Ryan's most loyal allies - would suffer and, therefore, the Freedom Caucus's size inside the entire Republican Conference would grow."

2. Even in the very best case scenario for Democrats, they will wind up with no more than 53 or 54 Senate seats. That's far short of the 60 needed to break filibusters (which Barack Obama had in 2009). Ted Cruz and other senators will continue to use this tool in order to advance their 2020 presidential ambitions.

3. Many Republicans will insist Clinton has no mandate to govern. They will try constantly to de-legitimize her and do everything in their power to make sure she's a one-term president.

Donald Trump is laying the groundwork to question the very legitimacy of the election, which is deeply troubling, but lately conservative writers are beginning to plant the seeds to argue that a Clinton victory won't actually mean there's any popular support for what she ran on.

The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein argued last week, for example, that Clinton will only win because the electorate thinks Trump is "a nutcase."

"Despite a victory, she will still remain broadly unpopular and distrusted among a public that probably won't have paid much attention to her actual policy proposals," Klein argued. "Making the election about the implications of Trump's turbulent behavior will make it harder for Clinton to claim a policy mandate, complicating her liberal agenda as president."

4. As soon as this election is over, Democrats must turn their attention to protecting vulnerable incumbents in 2018. If she gets the Senate majority, the midterms could be a disaster for Clinton - just as 1994 was for her husband. With the exception of the 2002 midterms after 9/11, the president's party always loses seats after the first two years. This time, Democratic senators will be up for reelection in red states such as Missouri, Montana, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Republicans will do everything they can to prevent those members from getting wins that they can run on.

5. Trump and Clinton are both talking a lot about "investing in infrastructure." But there's very little appetite in the Republican conference for this sort of spending - especially without cuts elsewhere.

One man's "infrastructure" is another man's "stimulus package." Because Trump is also promising "infrastructure," and it polls especially well with non-college-educated white men, Republicans have stuck to hitting Clinton on character and trust. But once the election is over, you can take it to the bank that they will begin messaging on Clinton's infrastructure plan the same way they did on Obama's stimulus package. Remember all the jokes about shovel-ready jobs? And that was in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Folio

6. Congress could not even pass a relatively small, emergency appropriation to fight the Zika Virus after Republicans attached poison-pill riders. Keep in mind: A) This is during an election year. B) Republicans are fighting to save their majority. C) There's an outbreak in Florida, the single most important swing state. D) There have been alarming stories about women giving birth to deformed babies. Let's be real. If these mothers could not spur action, how will construction workers in hard hats do it?

We got a taste of what to expect from a Clinton White House in Miami on Tuesday, when the Democratic nominee criticized the GOP for not taking action on Zika. She said Congress should come back from its August recess to get something done. She sounded eerily like Obama has since 2011, trying to use the power of the bully pulpit to (unsuccessfully) press congressional Republicans to enact his priorities.

7. Bigger picture, and perhaps most importantly, a new president will not be able to break the gridlock that grips Washington without systemic change.

Over cocktails and coffees this August recess, lawmakers and leadership aides from the establishment wings of both parties have been buzzing about a depressing Atlantic cover story entitled: "How American politics went insane; it happened gradually - and until the U.S. figures out how to the treat the problem, it will only get worse."

Jonathan Rauch argues that Trump didn't cause the chaos, but the chaos caused Trump. "Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around," he writes. "Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system's capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers-political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees - that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries' influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal-both in campaigns and in the government itself."

He believes demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. "Eventually, you will get sick," Rauch writes. "Because that problem is mental, not mechanical, it really is hard to remedy."

Previously:

07/29/16: Dems claim patriotism, Religion and American exceptionalism at convention 05/02/16: 10 reasons Cruz's Fiorina gambit will likely flop 03/31/16: The Dem convention in Philadelphia could be even messier

03/30/16: Rift over social issues tears Republicans' base

03/03/16: Why Ted Cruz might be the last, best hope for conservatives to stop Donald Trump after Super Tuesday

02/25/16: Trump's romp in Nevada shows why the establishment's conventional wisdom about his ceiling may be wrong

02/24/16: Inside Marco Rubio's suburban strategy


02/23/16: Trump seen as losing South Carolina debate .

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