Welcome to 2014 and the year of the midterm elections. There are enough trial balloons released in media talk shows lately — laying out party game plans — that we can get an idea of what to expect.
Any sound and fury will signify very little earth-shaking legislative action between now and 2016, since both sides have indicated they have dug in with their respective hard line approaches The budget deal has already been struck. Only the debt ceiling debate looms, which will be mostly a vehicle for both political parties to rally their bases.
Expect the Democrats to go on the offensive to propose tackling the widening gap between the rich and the rest with this recovery, making a mockery of trickle-down theory. Bucked up by Pope Francis’ new emphasis on caring for “the least of these,” they will wrap old issues such as unemployment benefits, food stamps and minimum wage increases in moral tones.
Expect the GOP to be against whatever President Obama wants, and not for much other than cutting government services, reducing the deficit and maybe pieces of immigration reform to garner more Hispanic votes. Issues such as the economy, the deficit and Obamacare could initially be their hottest topics. However, there is a danger in relying on those issues because they may have diminishing returns as November approaches.
Increasing Obamacare sign-ups will make repeal, taking away benefits so many will have realized, an untenable political strategy and the GOP will likely shift to nibble, repair and sabotage. Rehashing old ideas is not a promising exercise. To make their case for “repair,” we can expect Republicans to continue to dramatize the health care law’s warts and the plight of those who drew the short stick. We can expect the supporters of Obamacare to return fire with anecdotes of successes and to delay implementation of more minor sore points. The advantage of the battle of the anecdotes will go to Democrats since the numbers of those benefiting will far outweigh the disgruntled and the 85 percent of the population on employer’s insurance or Medicare and Medicaid will have seen little change before November 2014. Their plans have already adjusted to the new law.
The GOP could make the limp economy an issue, but that, too, has diminishing returns. The economy is growing and the forecast is that it will continue to improve. The Democrats could counter that the economy grew in spite of the GOP putting brakes on it. The government shutdown reduced the growth rate by three-tenths of a percent and the sequester by 0.7 percent by July 2013, and the resulting pain triggered the back-tracking budget deal in December. Further weakening the GOP will be the split in their party between the ideologically-bound Tea Party shut-downers and the more pro-business establishment that will erupt in the February debt limit debate and again in their primaries.
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