ALBUQUERQUE, NM – There’s a topic that Sen; Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his campaign don’t seem eager to discuss much, or at all, and it’s one that Republicans are raising with increasing frequency in these final days: the notion of one-party rule returning to Washington DC.
Speaking at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque on Saturday morning, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., raised the prospect of Democrats controlling the White House, the Senate, and the House.
"Senator Obama is measuring the drapes and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq," McCain said.
It’s one of McCain’s closing arguments, and it makes sense. As ABC News’ Polling Director Gary Langer points out, many swing-voting independents don’t like the idea of one party controlling the executive branch, as well as both houses of Congress.
Independents, by 43-34 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll, say divided government is the better way to go.
And by 45-37 percent they say they’d rather see Republicans win control of Congress. (Which ain’t gonna happen. As of now, House Republicans lament, the only question is how many seats they lose.)
You’re going to hear this argument a lot this week; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has even come up with a handy nickname for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and (in this construct) President Barack Obama: "RePO".
And it’s why you hear Republicans seize upon remarks like those made by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chair of the House Financial Services Committee, who told a local Massachusetts newspaper that in addition to a second economic stimulus package he’d like to see Congress enact a 25 percent cut in military spending.
Frank doesn’t control the pursestrings of the Pentagon budget, but the underlying argument is that America is about to turn over control to a bunch of liberal Democrats.
Bloomberg News columnist Amity Shales, a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that RePO won’t be popular on Wall Street.
Shales writes of Eric Singer, founder of the new mutual fund the Congressional Effect Fund, who noted that "the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index performs two or three times better when Congress is out of session than when at least one of the two chambers is at work. That difference, Singer discovered, wasn’t because of political party — a laboring Republican Congress was also problematic. The poor performance, rather, reflects market anxiety that the House and Senate generate when they pass a new regulation or revise laws already on the books. Simple congressional workday chatter about possible changes is also negative, according to the Singer data."
Looking back at the data from 1965 to today, Singer came to the conclusion that a divided Washington – "in which at least one of the two chambers is led by a party other than the president’s, points to a better total return for the S&P 500 than a unified Washington in which the presidency, House and Senate are controlled by one party…Having Democrat Bill Clinton in the White House in 1998 constrained congressional Republicans, or the other way around."
Obama talks a lot about his record of "reaching across the aisle," a record that’s fairly thin in Washington DC.
But what if he doesn’t have to reach across the aisle to get his legislative agenda passed? What if Pelosi and Reid rejoice in their fatter majorities and decide they ultimately have no need to take any Republican concerns into account?
Obama doesn’t seem overly concerned about that prospect. Earlier this month, he suggested that with a Democratic Congress he’d be able to "get something done."
Obama told Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV: "I think that if current trends continue we will continue to have a Democratic Congress. And I think that what the American people need at a moment when we’ve got huge problems here at home — we’ve also got huge problems abroad with two wars — what we need is a President who can mobilize Congress to actually get something done, instead of continuing the gridlock that we’ve seen over the last eight years. And that is something that I intend to provide—that leadership."
Obama’s impulses throughout his career have been to reach out to Republicans on a few relatively uncontroversial subjects, and to generally maintain a fairly orthodox liberal Democratic voting record. His rhetoric speaks of uniting the country, and there’s talk that should he win he’d appoint a couple Republicans to his Cabinet. But when push comes to shove, would he take on Pelosi and Reid and reach out to House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, if he doesn’t have to?
Of course, whether or not the RePO issue has any real resonance with voters is of course an open question. McCain made the charge in Albuquerque before a crowd of somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 people Saturday morning. On Saturday evening, Obama spoke at Johnson Field at the University of New Mexico. He attracted a crowd of roughly 35,000.