A post-election crisis

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Should gridlock prevail, as it is known to do, the resulting blow to consumer demand is expected to be devastating. Large corporations have not only warned employees they could lose their jobs, but the anticipation has already prompted layoffs. Members of both parties, in both chambers, knew when they put it off there wouldn’t be time for thoughtful resolution, or even adequate distance from a predictably contentious election. By the time Congress returns on Tuesday, Nov. 13, the losers from this election will still be smarting. For most members in both parties, the infamous “lame-duck” session of 2012 will be a legislative challenge more difficult and politically painful than most of them have ever faced. And despite their great hope that the election would determine everything, that the country would send them a signal about how to proceed, in reality a mandate for Mitt Romney or Obama is highly unlikely.


Some Republicans I have spoken to promise that in either scenario they won't give up the fight — an Obama victory won't chasten them, and a President Romney offers a long-sought opportunity for serious reforms and significant deficit reduction the likes of which eluded conservatives in the Bush years. With the help of a Vice President Ryan, they say, they will go for the kitchen sink. Democrats, it goes without saying, will smell 2014 gains in the event of a Romney victory and are likely to form an impenetrable bloc against Medicare reforms, extensions of upper-bracket tax cuts and substantial spending cuts. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Friday that “Mitt Romney’s fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his 'severely conservative' agenda is laughable.”

Many lawmakers who will play a key role in negotiating a deal are up for reelection in the next cycle and will be watching their backs to avoid a primary challenge, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). There will be other lawmakers, without electoral pressures, working hard to stop compromise — those who lead movements tied to the dream that one day they will find enough votes, and hold all the cards, to accomplish exactly what they believe we all need. It is hard to imagine Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) at the table on tax increases, no matter how slight, as it would be to imagine House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) urging her colleagues to cut a deal on the kind of overhaul that would truly reform Medicare and curb healthcare costs to the extent our exploding debt now demands. 

Obama made news last month when he did a head-fake on sequestration, flatly declaring during a debate with Romney that it won't be happening. His aides tried walking his comments back within minutes of the debate's conclusion. It was the opposite of leadership. But don't blame Obama alone; a sitting president could only ignore such a crisis for an entire presidential campaign with an opponent like Romney, who worked just as hard to make sure it was never discussed.

But there are lawmakers who can no longer continue to serve amid the deterioration, party to the disintegration of our economic health as well as our nation’s historical cohesion and our ability to govern and solve problems. They know it has eroded our reputation abroad, cost us jobs and even now threatens our national security. They want a deal badly; they just don't know how to get there. It is those very men and women we need the most, no matter who is president. They must remain united, courageous and resolute. With their guts perhaps we can turn the tide.