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Fate Of Priorities Could Have Obama Sweating Fate Of Priorities Could Have Obama Sweating

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OFF TO THE RACES

Fate Of Priorities Could Have Obama Sweating

Losing On Climate Change Could Hurt The President And Congressional Democrats On Health Care Reform, Too

It's a shame that with the thousands of statistics released every week from Washington, there aren't any called "CPBP" or "CPHR," short for "Collective Partisan Blood Pressure" and "Collective Partisan Heart Rate."

Last week would undoubtedly show dramatic increases for each side, with Democratic blood pressures and Republican heart rates significantly up.

 

Many Democrats getting back to Washington from the Independence Day recess reported getting an earful from their constituents over the "energy tax hike," otherwise known as the climate change bill, which the House passed before leaving town.

Although the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the average household would pay only an additional $175 per year in energy costs, perception is more important than reality. The perception is that this is a huge tax increase at a time when people can ill afford one. Hence, Democrats, whether they supported the bill or not, are getting battered, increasing their blood pressure.

Obama finds himself fighting a two-front war within his own party.

 

Republicans, on the other hand, are experiencing an increase in heart rate, as they are finally beginning to land some punches on Democrats in Congress, and to a lesser extent, President Obama, after two horrendous elections. While the GOP lacks a single leader or message and the party's demographic profile is bleak, the good news is that midterm elections are rarely about the party out of power.

Parties that are out of power are hungrier and tend to adopt new technology faster; just look at Democrats' mastery of the Internet during their period in the wilderness.

Now that Republicans are out of power, it's their turn. An almost-60-year-old House Republican who, like me, is not the quickest to embrace or appreciate new technology was on the phone last week marveling over how the use of social networking was helping conservatives marshal opposition to the Obama agenda, saying that it really was coming from the grassroots.

The pounding that Democrats are getting on climate change has a strong chance to spill over onto health care. Doubts in voters' minds about the wisdom of Democratic efforts on one issue can easily contaminate the other.

 

Like Democrats not too long ago, Republicans don't have the burden of having to offer specific solutions. To succeed, they just have to foment doubt and fear about Democrats' ability to handle any number of issues, including climate change and health care reform. These can build on doubts that have already been building on the cost and effectiveness of the economic stimulus package and the size and makeup of the budget.

Obama finds himself fighting a two-front war within his own party. Conservative and moderate Democrats, many of whom are from rural and swing states and districts, are terrified by what they see coming down the track. And their sense of self-preservation is strong. There are few, if any, human emotions stronger than the survival instinct.

These Democrats have to think about whether their opposition to the climate change and/or health care bills would effectively insulate them from the fallout if one or both of the president's signature -- and by all accounts historic -- legislative proposals go down in flames. If Obama's approval ratings drop into the 40s, how many of the 54 Democratic House members sitting in districts held by Republicans four years ago are likely to survive? Are they all in the same boat regardless of how they voted?

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While the survival instinct among such Democrats is understandable, seemingly less logical are the threats by many liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill to vote down one or both bills because they have been watered down too much.

Certainly, principle and not wanting to compromise too much is quite logical, but if climate change and/or health care reform fail, do they think these issues will be revisited later in this Congress or administration? Not likely.

Do they think a Republican president elected in 2012 -- a distinct possibility if Obama's primary agenda items end up on the rubbish heap -- would push through something to their liking? Given that the climate change bill was saved by the support of eight Republicans and that all but a handful of the 44 House Democrats who voted against the bill did so because it didn't compromise enough, suggests that insisting on the full loaf would have been folly.

Nobody ever thought Obama's agenda would be easily enacted, but the difficulty of the challenge is becoming more evident each day.

No one can doubt the boldness, yes, even the audacity of what he is attempting to do. But friends and foes among Washington insiders are questioning whether it's too much, too fast in a horrific economic climate.

While it is too apocalyptic to say that the Obama agenda will be in shambles if his two signature legislative projects fail, it's safe to assume that the atmosphere will be more difficult in terms of moving further contentious legislation through. In short, the already high stakes are getting higher.

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