It has been an inglorious few months for the Republican brand. Everything that could go wrong has, and the momentum politically has been all in the direction of the President and his allies.
The past couple weeks however marked the first time since the election that is not the case.
It began, predictably, with gun control. I predicted long ago that the gun control fight would be a political road bump that the Democrats would not pleased by. Last week saw the first inkling of that reality. Mr. Obama released his presidential orders (of which, all that can be said is they were of no real consequence, either to defenders of the 2nd amendment or prohibitionists). He then followed with his legislative plan for Congress. This week Senator Feinstein released her plan to the public as well.
And that was largely responded to with a big ‘thud’.
What is glorious about the gun control debate for Republicans is that this is a fight that will be fought completely on the Democrat side. For the most part, Republicans will vote against any assault weapons ban. They may be willing to look at background checks, the so-called ‘gun show loophole’, and other fringe items. But the prohibitionist wing of the Democrat Party demand a Brady-like assault ban.
To have any chance of getting this through, they need to be able to get it through the Senate. Even if somehow they can get around filibuster rules, it is uncertain whether they can get 51 votes needed to pass the measure. At least 10 Democrats (including 7 from red states running for re-election in 2014) have signaled distaste for the ban. And of course, they don’t want to be holding the bag if the House GOP vote against it.
Boehner, in a moment of great wisdom, refused to take a stand on the issue…thus leaving the onus on Senate Democrats. That is precarious position for them. First, they refused to overturn the filibuster rules, which means on top of having to take unpopular votes, they need several Republicans to side with them. And with momentum in the media and in polls significantly slowing for gun control, time is running out.
The GOP had little to do with the gun control debate, but had to a lot to do with the shift in the debate on the debt ceiling and the sequester. This week, they made public a plan to give a short term extension to the debt ceiling, but promised progress only if the Senate held up their legally bound duties and passed a budget.
Again, this is a situation where the GOP has now shifted the responsibility, to some extent, to Democrats. The fight over the artificial debt ceiling was a defensive posture for the GOP, and not they were ever going to win. However, we see the first rays of light that this posture may pay dividends. From the Washington Post‘s editorial board, lauding the move:
Mr. Obama must distinguish between the Republicans’ unreasonable positions and their reasonable ones. Refusing to consider tax increases and holding the debt ceiling hostage were examples of the former; both have now been significantly modified, if not abandoned.
Insisting on serious reforms to entitlement programs, however, was the GOP’s reasonable demand, one the Republicans have not abandoned. This presents Mr. Obama with a choice: He can continue driving a hard bargain, in both political and policy terms. That would presumably entail refusing to deal on entitlements until the Republicans capitulate with regard to the sequester and a partial government shutdown on March 27.
Or the president could act on his past promises to tackle entitlements and engage in good faith with Republicans now, so that they have no further reason to exploit the sequester or threaten a shutdown. In that regard, a reference Friday by the White House to purported GOP plans for “drastic cuts in Medicare” was not an encouraging development. There is still plenty of time for Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid to show that they are willing to treat the GOP’s change in position as an opportunity to address the country’s long-term fiscal needs, rather than their party’s short-term political ones.