We are, tediously, hearing lots of jabber this week about how maybe this election finally sent a message to Washington that the public wants government to work, dammit. Compromise is the order of the day. Republicans need to show that they can govern. Obama needs to show he can be flexible.
Meh. I don’t see why anyone thinks this. Mitch McConnell has spent six years obstructing everything in sight, and there’s no special reason to think that’s going to change. John Boehner has spent the past four years in a wholly futile attempt to make his tea party crazies see reason, and there’s no reason to think he’s suddenly figured out how to do it. President Obama has spent the past two years convinced that executive action is his only hope of getting anything done, and there’s not much reason to think he’s changed his mind about that. As for the public, they don’t want compromise. They want the other side to give in. Nothing has changed there.
In other words, control of the Senate may have changed hands, but the underlying fundamentals of Washington politics have barely budged. With that in mind, here are my predictions about what does and doesn’t have a chance of happening over the next 18 months:
Tax reform: Forget it. All the usual fault lines are still around. In fact, with the Republican caucus now more conservative and the Democratic caucus more liberal, the usual fault lines are even bigger than ever. This is a nonstarter.
Immigration reform: Forget it. See above.
Keystone XL: This depends on whether Obama actually cares about it. I’ve never been sure about that. But my guess is that he doesn’t care very much, so some kind of budget deal that includes authority to build the pipeline seems fairly likely.
Trade agreements: This actually seems doable. It’s mostly been Democrats who are opposed.
Obamacare repeal: Forget it.
Tweaks to Obamacare: A bit of tinkering around the margins might be possible. The employer mandate, for example, was never a pillar of the law, and it wouldn’t hurt much to get rid of it. Ditto for the medical device tax. But that’s about it.
Repeal of Obama’s environmental regulations. Forget it.
Executive/judicial appointments: This is going to slow to a crawl. It’s a good thing Democrats killed the filibuster when they did.
Iran nuclear treaty: This is actually a tough one to predict, partly because I’m not clear on (a) just how far Obama can go without congressional approval, and (b) whether Iran is serious about a deal in the first place. At a guess, though, Congress might very well decide to throw a spanner in the works that kills any chance of a treaty. A bunch of new Republican senators, combined with the existing strength of the Israel lobby, could be enough to make a real difference here.
So there you go. Those are my predictions. Have I missed anything big?
POSTSCRIPT: Oh, and the 2016 candidates for president will be Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Scott Walker for the Republicans.