On this special Inauguration Day, also Dr. King Day, the nation can pause to think about where we are and where we are going. The first thought that crossed my mind as Obama quickly and privately took the oath on the official day was, “Wow, Malia really has grown, she’s almost as tall as her Mom!” Most of what we’ll here will be that kind of fluff that helps us all connect on a personal level to a warm, real family of actually very ordinary people in so many ways.
But that’s not what the party is really about. The trappings of power will be all over as we start another term with the guy who got us through the last four years, for better or worse. What can we expect? What should we insist on? How is this going to go down with a Republican House that appears to be uncontrolled? It’s all guesswork, but we know a few things for sure.
The first thing that will come up immediately after the inaugural is the vote on cloture reform in the Senate. It was delayed from 3 January because … well, no one is really sure quite what’s up, other than the fact that Sen. McConnell has been far more cooperative, even delivering a solid block of votes to support the Fiscal Cliff deal. Was there a price for this bipartisan cooperation? We’ll see on Wednesday when the Senate Rules for the year finally come up for a vote. The odds are that filibusters will be allowed only once per bill and the anonymous “block” on nominees will be removed, but many are calling for more reform – such as requiring that a filibuster go back to a piece of performance art where they keep talking. We will see.
Beyond un-gumming the Senate, we can expect Obama himself to be more “combative” and focused on building a personal legacy. Implementing Obamacare in 2014 is going to be an ongoing struggle for sure, but there has to be more. The Washington Post quoted the most important person in Washington on this topic, the un-named “senior administration official”: “Let’s not focus on what’s possible or doable, tell me what our goal should be, and let me worry about the politics.”
That would be a wonderful change if it does happen, but we will have to see. Certainly he has not backed down from controversy when the nomination of Sen. Chuck Hagel was strongly challenged in the Senate. That may mean that the rest of the Fiscal Cliff deal will feature a strong Obama who is not as ready to compromise after all.
Which naturally gets us to the House Republicans. They appear to have become aware of their horrid poll numbers, which show that a majority of Republicans think they are “out of touch”. They’ve already caved on the Debt Ceiling apparently and are considering a real budget deal that would be tied to an end of their own pay if it doesn’t pass. They are apparently serious about turning things around, which is an excellent sign. It’s hard to see that this will get us to the Simpson-Bowles framework for a bigger deal, but a budget would be good. It also means that they recognize that Obama has a way better hand than they do.
Beyond the next few months it’s hard to say just what lies ahead for the next four years. Syria is still burning and the world is still rather dangerous. Youth unemployment is still deplorably high and represents a good indicator as to whether the economy is really turning around, for real, or not. We can tell what to look for through the end of 2013, but beyond that gets very tricky. The entire world is changing rapidly and a major credit crisis that takes down investment banks is still very possible. If nothing else, Europe is still a mess that threatens the global financial system.
But what we can see right now is a very different Washington taking shape right in front of us. Given that they were the one thing that really threatened the US economy, that’s a very good sign. We’ll have to see how it all goes.
That is, after we’re done checking out Michelle Obama’s gown and seeing the kids party with their parents through the long night. I wonder what lucky young man might be Malia’s date for the night? Ah, well, it’s great to see the kids grow up and take their own place with the family. Hopefully, the adults in positions of power are going to grow up a bit, too. This might all work out.