November 03, 2004

What mandate?

The latest word of the day, it seems, is "mandate." Mandate this, mandate that. I don't buy it. A "mandate" is nothing more than how much you can get away with in Congress. The Bush administration got away with a lot early on during his first term, partly because Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress were terrified that he could use 9/11 to unseat them, as he did to Max Cleland, and partly because individual Senators simply agreed with him on main issues, like No Child Left Behind or the PATRIOT Act.

This time around, though, it's hard to see that Bush will be able to similarly intimidate John McCain, Arlen Specter, the hugely popular Maine Senators, and of course the Democrats. He just doesn't have that scary national-security edge anymore. Likewise, I doubt that there's a clearly majority in Congress ready to bend over for Bush and pass deficit-widening tax cuts, privatize Social Security, and slash spending. Bush, remember, didn't really win because of these issues, and most members of Congress and Senators have no reason to fear a voter backlash if they stand up to Bush on budget matters.

What Bush does have a mandate for, given that sits at the head of a one-party Congress, is signing pork into law. So we can expect a lot more corporate tax bills, giveaways, and other ludicrous spending measures. This is more or less the equilibrium state for Congress, no matter what it's make up, and Bush probably won't feel the need to veto anything.

Update: Okay, so there are some new things that will get passed, like the energy bill, simply by virtue of having more Republicans in the Senate and fewer Democrats. (Barring, of course, defections!) But look at the actual changes in the Senate. Miller is gone in favor of Isaakson. An obvious wash. Breaux is gone in favor of Vitter. Mostly a wash, in terms of major bills. Meanwhile, Republicans only gain a net two seats elsewhere (Gaining SD, NC, SC, FL, but losing IL and CO). Given that the Dems will have a stronger minority leader in Harry Reid, it doesn't look like the Republicans are that much stronger than they have been over the last two years. They've gained enough to squeak through a few more bills, sure, but not enough to shove through an entire radical agenda.
-- Brad Plumer 6:40 PM || ||