Saturday, June 27, 2009

House Passes Sweeping Climate Change Bill Dramatically, How Far "In the Wilderness" Is the GOP?

House Narrowly and Dramatically Passes Climate Change Bill
The House of Representatives on Friday passed by a very narrow margin, the most sweeping environmental bill in this nation's history. It basically would give President Obama everything that he wants from an environmental policy perspective: cap and trade, increased requirements for renewable energy, tax subsidies to help lower income individuals cope, subsidies for hybrid and electrical vehicles as well as tariffs for countries that do not have similar rules in place.

Republicans decried the cost to the consumer and the potential to spark a trade war. In the end, the vote of 219-212 was extremely close, with 8 Republicans joining 211 Democrats to vote in favor and 44 conservative to moderate Democrats joining the remaining 168 Republicans in opposition. This gives the house vote a 0.78 on our partisanship index or a "fairly partisan" ranking.

If you are in favor of these provisions, don't rejoice too much. There is zero chance that this bill, as written, could pass the Senate, where to break a filibuster, it will have to appeal not only to liberal Democrats but to moderate Democrats like Ben Nelson and Arlen Specter and moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Passage of the House bill greatly improves the chances of passage of sweeping legislation this year, but I have no doubt that if a bill ultimately passes both houses of congress, it will be more moderate than the version that just moved through the House.

A History of Political Power -- How Much Trouble is the GOP In?
There has been a lot of proclamation on the left that the GOP is dead in the water. A shrinking proportion of the electorate, we are told, they are at record low levels of political power and will continue to shrink over the next few years.

History might suggest otherwise. Sure, the GOP faces structural problems -- an aging party base, a lack of appeal to ethnic minorities who will soon be the majority, but parties have reinvented themselves before. Richard Nixon had the Watergate scandal -- just a cycle and a half later the Reagan revolution happened. George H.W. Bush had some of the worst approval ratings of any sitting President -- just 2 years later the Contract with America swept Republicans back into the House and Senate.

Of course, some returns take longer than others. Hebert Hoover's dealing with the start of the Great Depression cast the Republicans into the woods for a long time. Andrew Johnson's ineptness in dealing with reconstruction shoved Democrats out of power for years (in spite of the fact that he had run on a ticket with Republican Abraham Lincoln.)

So, where does the current GOP malaise rank? Let's start by looking at a chart of national political power in this country. The percentages are weighted 1/3rd based on House seats, 1/3rd based on Senate seats and 1/3rd based on control of the Presidency.

I find the ebbs and flows on this chart telling, but incomplete. Presidents are binary by nature, either one party wins or the other does. But congress can move by small percentages. So, let's look at the history of congressional power.

We can see that the GOP is nowhere near the lows of FDR's administration, not even as low as the post-Watergate era.

Don't get me wrong, the GOP has problems. They lack a unified platform or good spokesmen. They have a weak field for 2012 at this point. They don't seem poised to have a real shot at either house of congress in the next cycle. I'm simply saying history tells us that things can change quickly in politics.

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