The Legislative History of the Obama Administration

Presidents have, on occasion, gotten their second winds. Often times, those victories come from foreign policy, over which they have asserted more control. But no signature legislation got through Congress. Baby Bush’s legislative history could be written when he declared after his reelection that he would spend political capital “reforming” Social Security. 2005 was a terrible year for Bush and his agenda was finished.

Clinton never really recovered from losing the fight over health care reform. By the time that was done, and Congress turned over, only things like reforming welfare that the GOP wanted anyway inured to his credit. The rest was administrative.

The elder Bush isn’t remembered for much in his one term other than a war. Reagan managed to rewrite major aspects of the tax code in 1986, it’s true. But even giants like FDR and LBJ who passed seemingly impossible legislation did so in very tiny spurts close to the beginning of their administrations.

While it’s possible Obama will get his groove back, I doubt we’ll be seeing any major reforms in the next 5 years even if he wins reelection—a reelection made critical by the fact of the Supreme Court and the depraved insanity of his opponents.

But you probably could have written the book on Obama based on his first few initiatives: the ARRA (“Stimulus Bill”) and the “Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.”) The ARRA was either wasteful spending to classical economists or too small to Keynesians. And the argument that $700b was all that was available shows just how low the sights really were set by the Obama team. How long could even the U.S. Senate hold out against a newly elected president in an economic emergency? They didn’t even find out.

And instead of introducing the Civil Rights Bill of 2009 that would have plugged some of the leaks that have sprung since, but no. Just a slight tweak to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that seemed unfair.

But we all know where the tide really turned. It was in having a large majority in the House, a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, and not at least getting health care reform with the public plan in it. I have no doubt that the system that will go into effect in 2014 will be better. The point of this post isn’t to attack the PPACA.

But if there is any question over the “enthusiasm” gap in 2010, it has to come from the fact that all of the blood, sweat, tears, and dollars spent in 2008 resulted in very little “change” despite those large majorities. You would have thought a majority that large would have led to a Medicare-for-all style plan, maybe even through reconciliation if necessary.

But no. We got Romney care, or Nixon care, or the Heritage Institutional care, or Dole Care… Obama Care! This is, apparently, the maximum that can be realistically achieved in politics.

Well, maybe.

I think Obama believed his “no red states and blue states” speech. I think he believed he should and could inaugurate a new Era of Good Feelings. He didn’t realize that couldn’t happen with the paid assassins on the other side of the aisle. And it made him too willing to compromise.

He will probably win reelection. And he may even settle this debt ceiling fight, but I seriously doubt we get another signature piece of legislation from this president. God willing, he will save the Supreme Court.