Political unease

Throughout 2012, conventional wisdom in politics has been turned on its head.

In January, the experts said no major bills were likely to get to President Obama’s desk this election year.

But measures on highways, student loan interest rates, the Export-Import Bank and a ban on congressional insider trading for members of Congress all were signed during the first six months of the year.

Few, having heard oral arguments, thought the Supreme Court would uphold President Obama’s healthcare law. And even fewer predicted that Chief Justice John Roberts would side with the court’s liberal wing on both healthcare and Arizona’s immigration law.

One could go on — so we shall. Who expected Obama’s reelection team to be worried about money four months before the elections? Yet, on Monday, Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, acknowledged that his money-raisers had been beaten “handily” on in June. The haul of Mitt Romney, presumptive GOP nominee, bested them by $35 million.

In light of all this, it is probably safe to suggest that political pundits and the wider public should expect the unexpected.

At this stage of the elections in 2006, 2008 and 2010, it was pretty clear which party would be victorious in November. That is not so this year.

And the election result is not the only uncertainty. Far from it.

What will happen in the lame-duck session? Major decisions on taxes, unemployment insurance and defense sequestration will become necessary. But those issues are as likely to be prolonged by inaction as they are to be settled by decisive action.

The aptly named fiscal cliff looms over the nation. Will the economy and taxpayers avoid it? Will policymakers strike a major agreement? Or punt until the new Congress? How will credit-rating agencies react?

The multitude of questions has unnerved legislators as well as their constituents.

Some lawmakers are optimistic that a bipartisan deal on taxes and the economy will be reached at some point during the next 12 months. Others, pointing to the partisan showdowns of 2011, are not hopeful.

There is also a decent chance that both parties will claim victory after Nov. 6. If Republicans retain the House and capture the Senate, but Obama is reelected, which party is deemed the winner? Who has the leverage?

Romney has said if he is elected president, policymakers should not iron out a grand bargain during Obama’s last days in office. That would suggest he wants Congress to move a short-term fix so he can reach an agreement on a long-term deal early in his presidency.

Business activity is depressed by uncertainty. It is easy to understand why so much uncertainty is paralyzing. But the political sphere is going to produce four months more of electoral hyperactivity.