Scott Brown Senate win leaves Obama, Democrats scrambling
Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts has shifted the political landscape. Endangered Democrats are likely to play it safe, and some might retire.
It was the shot heard round the political world.Skip to next paragraph
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Suddenly, with the loss of the Democrats’ 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, President Obama’s agenda is in jeopardy.
A far-reaching overhaul of the healthcare system, close to completion before the Massachusetts vote, may now be beyond reach. A second economic stimulus package, already a steep legislative climb amid concerns over government spending, just got steeper. Financial regulatory reform is in doubt. Climate-change legislation is probably off the table.
The political landscape has also shifted. Already-endangered Democrats are likely done taking risky votes. And presumably safe Democrats are now looking over their shoulders, wondering if they, too, might be vulnerable come the November midterms.
The good news for Mr. Obama and the Democrats is that they have 10 months to retool and regroup. In fact, some analysts say, the loss of the Massachusetts seat could in one sense be a blessing in disguise for the Democrats, as it has shown them just how endangered their congressional majority is.
Obama must win back supporters
The question is how to regain the confidence of former supporters, especially the independent voters who backed Obama in 2008 and who swung decisively toward the Republicans in the last three statewide races: Massachusetts, plus last November’s gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia.
“The most important thing Obama can do to win back independents is improve the economy,” says Darrell West, a government scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “People are very worried about jobs.... Prosperity would do a lot to reduce the populist anger that we’ve seen around the country.”
The House passed a $154 billion jobs bill in December, just on Democratic votes; Senate Democrats may now believe passing similar legislation is beyond reach. Though the Obama administration says the first stimulus package of $787 billion saved 2 million jobs, many Americans are skeptical. Republicans argue for bigger and more effective tax cuts, not more deficit spending.
Even if presidents can’t create jobs outright, they can help foster public confidence in the future, and if people are confident, they will spend more, says Mr. West, who notes that consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the economy.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
When Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, the economy is expected to be front and center, with jobs as issue No. 1 but also with a focus on fiscal solvency.
On Tuesday, the White House and congressional Democrats agreed tentatively to create an independent, bipartisan budget commission, which would look broadly at the tax code and entitlements. Congress would vote on its recommendations after the fall elections.
Political analysts say the shift of independents away from the Democrats does not necessarily redound fully to the Republicans’ advantage. Polls show the GOP is still less popular than the Democratic Party. One major poll found the antitax “tea party” movement more popular than either major party.
“Independents are sizable and want to be heard, and they’re voting,” says independent pollster John Zogby. “Today they are against the president, and they are solidly against the Democrats. But it’s a real stretch to say that they’re with the Republicans.”
Mr. Zogby predicts that independent candidates will be “coming out of the woodwork,” running in primaries and in general elections. Some could get more than 10 percent of the vote, “enough to throw everything into a tizzy,” he says.