Republicans try balance-of-power argument

Monday, November 3, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Elect Republicans or else.

That's the final battle cry of struggling Republican candidates at the close of the election. They are warning that a victory by Barack Obama will give Democrats running the White House and Congress unfettered freedom to raise taxes, expand government -- and who knows what else -- in a time of crisis when checks and balances are most needed.

Of course, Republicans did not seem to mind when they controlled the House and Senate during President Bush's first term. They conducted far less oversight of their own president than they did of President Clinton, whom they tried to remove from office. Also, the nation has survived each of the 34 presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush, who did business at some point in his tenure when Congress was controlled by his own party.

From John McCain on down, Republicans are warning that a President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would represent a threesome of tax-and-spend liberalism that could wreak havoc on the economy if handed the reins of government.

"They're coming," warns the announcer of an ad for the Senate Republican campaign committee released on Halloween.

"Ghoulish liberals threaten complete control of Washington," the announcer says. "No checks. No balances ... a liberal agenda so scary its effects will be felt for a generation."

In a weekend fundraising letter, McCain warns: "We can't let the Obama-Biden Democrats turn our country from the land of opportunity into the land of government handouts." He references talk of a "tax trifecta of Obama-Pelosi-Reid."

The idea that there is danger should Democrats control two branches of government has been repeated by struggling Republican candidates.

Democrats say that having the executive and legislative branches dominated by a governing majority could produce faster fixes for the economy and other problems after years of partisan wrangling.

Months ago, congressional Democrats gave up trying to get basic legislation approved that, if not stopped by Senate Republicans, Bush would have vetoed. Rather than enact a spending plan for the 2009 budget year, Democrats decided a temporary one would suffice "until after Senator Obama becomes president," Reid said in August.

Pelosi took up the why-bother theme in an interview with The Associated Press last month. Explaining the rationale for putting off work on an economic aid plan opposed by Bush until after the election, Pelosi said, there was no reason to "(beat) our head against a wall just to make a point that he won't sign it."

"But we can get something signed -- please, God -- when Barack Obama wins the election," she added.

Obama stuck to a more bipartisan -- and perhaps pragmatic -- message.

"Some of the problems that we're talking about are ones that we're not going to be able to solve with one party just trying to dictate a solution to the problems," Obama said this past week on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." He cited global warming as an "all-hands-on-deck-situation."

It would be disingenuous to suggest that Democrats in control would mean legislation sailing through Congress, down Pennsylvania Avenue and onto the new president's desk. Democrats don't speak with one voice on big issues such as the Iraq war, health care and energy independence.

"Full and frank exchanges" -- a well-used Washington euphemism for big, messy political fights -- are likely on those and other issues even if voters award Democrats both the White House and Congress.

If Democrats do end up in control of both the presidency and Congress, that does not guarantee a smooth path for the president.

Bill Clinton had a Democratic-controlled Congress for the first two years of his presidency and almost immediately ran into lots of difficulties -- many of his own making, some entirely unrelated to his relations with Congress. But they gave Republicans the confidence to get up after their drubbing in the 1992 election and plan what became the first GOP takeover of Congress in four decades.

Clinton's early missteps blossomed into political disasters during the midterm election year. Twelve days into 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno announced she would appoint a special counsel to investigate Whitewater. Then Paula Jones filed a sexual harassment lawsuit that would lead to the basis of Clinton's impeachment trial during his second term.

In September, the Democratic-controlled Congress killed their own president's health care bill, developed by first lady Hillary Clinton.

Less than two months later, emboldened Republicans won control of Congress.

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