What Now? An Epic Election Meets the Future

So now what?

We'll hear from President Obama at a press conference today and then on 60 Minutes, Sunday. Expect humility, determination and no hint of "moving toward the center."  Work together, times are tough, too  much rancor in Washington, etc.

And then -- the country will meet the new personalities in charge. John Boehner, comfortable as a leather glove and skin texture to match, a country-club Republican who has humble beginnings. Eric Cantor, who won't escape the casual racism of being referred to as the "first Jewish majority leader," will appear as the voice of policy and conciliation.

Most of the White House policy apparatus is focused on the trip to Asia, and Obama might drop in a few forward-looking hints about how he views his job antebellum. He wants to double American exports in the next five years. He's visiting Asia, where he'll talk about mutual interdependence and put on his America Works hat.  Obama will be surrounded by themes and images of business and industry as he visits Mumbai, South Korea (for a G20 summit) and then the special country of Indonesia, where the Secret Service has to worry about whether it can fit "The Beast" -- his limousine -- through the narrow roads of Jakarta.

Privately, White House officials hope that Republicans immediately adopt a celebratory, no-compromise, "we're back!" posture, and hope that they don't take the advice of Sen. Mitch McConnell, who will call the election a mere "course correction."  Before or after Asia, he is almost certain to invite the new leaders of Congress to the White House, or to Camp David. There will be private meetings and a public photo op. Message: It's easy to say no, guys, but now this big pile of problems is on you, too.

Amid all of the post-morterms, Republicans will be exceptionally busy. Many in the party will try to discredit the very idea of a rump session of Congress given the magnitude of the defeat. Watch for groups like American Crossroads to spend money on television advertising here -- they've got to spend at least 51% of it on things other than candidates, and they have plenty left over.  Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sarah Palin, Fox News, and the Tea Party contingent of new House members will argue that a rump session is a chance for Democrats to ram unpopular policies through America's throats after they've made a decision to change direction.  Will Speaker-elect Boehner face a challenge? Will the Republicans have to incorporate someone with Tea Party credentials into the leadership, especially if Rep. Mike Pence leaves the ranks to run for President?  (Rep. Kevin McCarthy is a logical candidate for a promotion.)

Since the presidential election cycle begins today -- the political equivalent of Black Friday -- it will be interesting to see how the potential '12ers juke and jive for attention.  Obama's team has already met several times to discuss the timing and structure of a campaign. Several personnel announcements are expected before the end of the year.

Democrats are already playing down the notion that they'll get much done in a lame duck session.  They'd rather punt to January particularly the big issues, like tax cuts. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?  Don't even bother.  On taxes, the outline of a compromise is there, having been floated by Vice President Biden: the rates might stay in place for a larger number of wealthier Americans. The Estate Tax, which jumps up to 55% in January, will probably be restored at a lower rate. Capital gains taxes will also be higher, but not as high as they're slated to be.  Supporters of the START treaty are very worried.

Assuming that there is no leadership battle among Republicans....

The chief lobbyist for a Fortune 500 company that has significant health care interests thinks that Republicans on the appropriations committee will simply try to defund programs that the Department of Health and Human Services needs to continue to put parts of the health care into place.  At the very least, they'll make a strong show of it.  It will be difficult for Republicans to play too many head games with health care, like combining unpopular appropriations bills with popular ones to force the presidents hand.

According to Newsweek, the White House plans to aggressively enforce environmental regulations as they anticipate efforts from Republicans to strip authority from the EPA.  Compromise on renewable energy standards is possible, but the posturing between Rep. Joe Barton, the chairman of the energy committee, and the administration, may make this terribly difficult.  The GOP plans to hold high profile hearings examining the alleged "scientific fraud" behind global warming, a sleeper issue in this election that motivated the base quite a bit.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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