By A.B. Stoddard - 03/17/10 10:34 PM EDT
Yet if reform should meet its long-awaited death at the hands of Democratic divisions, Obama is right, the party can kiss any and all of its broad reform goals goodbye. The president just rolled out his education agenda, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) unveiled his roadmap for financial-services regulation, there is a new climate change bill in the Senate, and the administration continues to promise immigration reform. But in the wake of the spectacular failure of the party’s signature initiative, the transformation agenda would wash out right along with it.
The White House has decided to shift with the political winds on national security and on the domestic agenda as well. After the all-in on healthcare reform, which cost a year of time and enormous political capital, the administration is preparing to shift away from the big reforms the president talked up during his campaign and his entire first year in office. He seems to have accepted that divided Democratic majorities in the Congress get in the way of transformation. The Washington Post reported this week that the president will focus only on financial regulation and a legislative push to mitigate direct corporate giving to political candidates now permitted by a recent Supreme Court ruling, pushing off other reforms in hopes that the party can unite around a populist agenda that paints Republicans as defenders of Wall Street and big business.
But if Democrats fail to pass healthcare, it is doubtful they can hold together on regulatory reform. Without the long-sought prize of reform, liberal Democrats will dig in as deep as Republicans. It is hard to imagine the party coalescing around a bill that would have enough teeth for liberal Democrats but appeal to conservative Democrats as well.
Indeed, without healthcare, it’s hard to see the Democrats passing much of anything into law in this Congress. And they can forget about the next one. If Democrats keep control of the House and Senate next year, it won’t be by much. There are more Republicans coming to town, and the new ones aren’t interested in bipartisanship.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.