November 7, 2018

JOHNS | In House Victory, Democrats Now Owe Us Policy Details and Consensus-Building

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As Democrats celebrate taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in a decade, they soon will confront a lesser understood political reality: Campaigning is much easier than governing. Having wrongly convinced some Americans that implementing a single payer healthcare system that has worked nowhere in the world and rolling back tax cuts that have sparked an economic renaissance will benefit them, they are now on the hook to work within a divided federal government to forge consensus and deliver results — or face almost certain political decimation by President Trump in 2020.

There was no “blue wave” last evening. There was, instead, a message to the Trump administration that there remain many Americans still hurting in this nation even though every economic metric is pointing upward, including gross domestic product, employment, job creation and finally positive news in the third quarter this year that wages are inching upwards. The damage done to America’s poor and middle class by Obama administration policies cannot be underestimated. It was hugely ambitious and perhaps overly optimistic to believe that all Americans’ pain from the Obama era could be lifted in a mere two years, especially amidst such a partisan mainstream media culture that has joined Democrats in advocating for their policy agenda.

Democrats, to their credit, realized this incomplete economic recovery though they offered nearly no effective or detailed policy options to help those Americans that have yet to benefit from it. For example, they spoke extensively about a “Medicare for All” healthcare solution, which almost certainly will prove disastrous. This plan, of course, has not been submitted to Congress. Perhaps for this reason alone, there is no so-called “Medicare for All” policy – nor has it been scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Due to the fiscal realities, similar plans have failed even in states like California, a wealthy state with a liberal supermajority. They spoke also about repealing President Trump’s hugely successful tax cuts, which combined with vast regulatory relief have delivered growth unmatched in any period of the Obama administration. The Democrats will now have to explain in greater detail than just bumper stickers how taking more money from working Americans for Washington spending will prove helpful for anyone. Instead, incoming House Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said his number one priority was demanding President Trump’s tax returns — not delivering a better life for the American people.

The campaign also speaks to the political relevance of the previous two presidents, both of whom involved themselves heavily in the 2018 elections. President Trump’s rallies energized voters and increased turnout in key races from Texas to Indiana. On the other hand, President Obama’s efforts to influence races especially in Georgia and Florida turned to be for naught, as Georgia Republican Brian Kemp and Florida Republicans Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott emerged victorious from close races with national attention. This, if nothing else, signals the end of Obama’s political clout and the continued strength of Trump’s political leadership within his party. Last night, voters rejected Obama’s message and his endorsed candidates — a legacy of the over 1,000 state and federal seats Obama lost while he was President of the United States. Floridians voted instead for Mr. DeSantis, who could not have tied himself closer to President Trump.

Ultimately, this election will not amount to much in terms of policy change. The Democrats, no doubt, will use their House control to wield the committee gavels and the docket against the President’s agenda, despite their empty rhetoric about delivering policy solutions. This will be politically damaging and will captivate the mainstream media circus — but it will not impact the President’s ability to conduct business, and the Republican Senate will continue to confirm his judicial and executive appointees and, if necessary, his presidency in the face of impeachment. Importantly, Democrats’ indefensible handling of Kavanaugh and lack of any plan to secure the border likely cost them the opportunity to gain control of the Senate as well, costing especially in states like Florida and Missouri, both previously Democratic seats which swung to Republicans.

Democrats certainly benefited last evening from a hugely agenda-driven and biased mainstream media, which disseminated myriad lies and misrepresentations about Trump’s unqualified policy successes these past two years. Republican voters, no doubt, responded just as angrily to the media pounding into the minds of low information voters daily that somehow Trump was not legitimately elected, and the polls seem to reflect a response to Trump as an individual — not an executive — though he was not on the ballot this year.

This is the choice soon facing Americans in 2020: one party believes in lower taxes; the other believes in higher taxes. One party believes in securing our borders; the other has no plan or interest in doing so. One party has a healthy skepticism of the federal government’s ability to competently manage healthcare and questions the Constitutional basis for even authorizing such empowerment; the other cannot hand the entire healthcare sector — nearly a fifth of our gross domestic product — to the swamp fast enough.

President Trump proved in two years that his agenda is working. He has proven himself a competent politician and leader, though he is admittedly an unusual one. The unanswered question is whether Democrats, now given the majority in the House of Representatives, have any constructive policy that they can implement that they can point to when they again seek election in 2020.

Michael Johns, Jr. is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Athwart History runs every other Wednesday this semester. He can be reached at mjohns@cornellsun.com.