Divided government looms larger

I’m beginning to think the U.S. Senate Democratic majority is slipping away … and rapidly.

A number of Senate Democrats are announcing their retirements after the 2014 mid-term election. And a good number of those Democrats come from Republican-leading states. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., was just the latest. He joins Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in saying he won’t seek re-election next year. Plus, you have liberal lion Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, bailing out next year – but that seat could stay in Democratic hands if Republicans nominate one of their fruitcakes, such as Rep. Steve “Birther” King to run for the seat.

Other Democratic senators may be facing trouble in states such as Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.


But the question is this: Is that a bad thing for the country? Possibly no.

I recall in 1995 when the entire Congress flipped from Democratic to Republican control, while the White House remained in Democratic hands. Bill Clinton, who had been elected president two years earlier, learned quickly to work with Republican leaders in both congressional houses and managed to craft some good legislation into law involving welfare reform and tax policy.

If the Senate flips next year and the GOP holds its House majority, that will leave President Obama with the prospect of dealing even more directly with the “loyal opposition.” Can he do it? Will he do it? Like all second-term presidents, Barack Obama is hoping to build a legacy and that must mean finding even more ways to compromise.

Republicans already have shown their hand. They ain’t in the mood for compromise and with a stronger legislative position possible after 2014, they’ll dig in their heels even more.

Obama has several templates from which to work. The Clinton model is one. So, too, is the one that Republican George W. Bush faced when he became Texas governor in 1995, He had a Democratic majority in both legislative chambers but found a way to work hand in hand with a crusty Democratic lieutenant governor, the late Bob Bullock, and Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney, a son of the Texas Panhandle.

The Democrats’ political hand in D.C., though, isn’t looking so strong these days as we move toward the next off-year elections. President Obama had better start planning now for ways to turn bad political news into a positive policy development.