Would President Obama Be Better Off If Democrats Lose Control of Congress?

Some analysts say losing control of Congress would help President Obama.

October 21, 2010, 11:39 AM

Oct. 22, 2010 -- Two weeks from now Republicans may wrestle control of Congress away from Democrats in the mid-term elections, a development that the White House would desperately like to avoid.

But might such a loss actually prove beneficial to President Obama in 2012?

Even if that is a question that the president surely does not want to contemplate today, it warrants a closer look. Here is an examination of the most realistic options at this point in time.

The best-case scenario for Congressional Democrats right now appears to be narrowly holding on to control of the House and Senate, even just by the thinnest of margins. A more realistic scenario is keeping control of the Senate, but losing the House.

Either of those scenarios would leave Democrats spending the next two years fighting an uphill battle to get any part of their legislative agenda through a deadlocked Congress, hardly an ideal situation for the president as he launches his re-election campaign.

On the other hand, losing the House and Senate could lead to numerous political benefits for the president in two years time.

For starters, the White House might gain a political boost on issue number one in the minds of voters: the economy. The party that controls the government in turn takes ownership of the economy. If the government is divided -- with Democrats controlling the White House but Republicans at the helm in Congress -- then the president might not have to take all the blame for a sluggish economic recovery, should it not turn around in the next 24 months.

In addition, the White House would have an easier time contrasting its agenda with the GOP's. If Republicans are in control on Capitol Hill, then they will have to propose specific legislation, rather than only blasting the Democrats' proposals.

"President Obama's prospects for re-election improve if Republicans take the House and Senate," Peter Morici, professor at the University of Maryland business school, told ABC News. "The Republicans will slow down the Obama Express, but they don't have a program of their own that they can pass that will significantly improve the economy. Then the president can run against the Republican Congress in 2012 and win."

Promise or Peril Ahead for President?

Mark Greenbaum, a freelance journalist, recently made the case that even just losing control of the House could help the president win a second term in office.

"Divided government would give Obama an avenue to establish clear and sharper divisions between his ideas and the Republicans', since the GOP would have to offer concrete legislation and solutions and not simply opposition talking points," Greenbaum wrote last month in Salon. "More important, it would provide the president with a credible foil he can use to go on the offensive."

"Facing off with Republicans under a shared power relationship, he could find a way to get reelected," Greenbaum argued.

However, none of this is to say that a Republican Congress would not pose real political drawbacks for the White House over the next two years. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is anticipating becoming the chairman of the House committee that investigates the government, a position he would inherit from New York Democrat Edolphus Towns, if the GOP wins control of the House. For the White House, Issa's leadership of the House oversight panel could mean a flurry of investigations and subpoenas.

"A lot of it's going to be being fiscally responsible and holding government accountable," Issa said Wednesday on ABC News' Top Line.

That is one reason why some political analysts such as Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, believe losing control of Congress would not provide a political boost for the president as he seeks a second term.

"Having a foil is nice, and forcing the opposition into some level of accountability is nice also. But having to face hundreds of subpoenas, having your top officials hounded with demands to testify in front of dozens of committees, losing all control over the nominating process, and over how the agenda gets framed, is not nice at all," said Ornstein. "On balance, if I were the president, I would be rooting strongly for the Democrats to maintain their majorities, even if by the narrowest of margins. Better Edolphus Towns than Darrell Issa."

Of course, for the next two weeks the White House will be doing everything in its power to prevent the prospect of spending the next two years battling a Republican Congress, but at least if it comes to that, there might be a silver lining for the president.

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