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The Damage Romney Can Do


I don’t want to repeat myself and I’m reluctant to engage in further conflict with some of the people on the interwebs whom I most admire.    So I’ll mostly let readers judge for themselves about dsquared’s response, which as always is worth reading.  I do, however, want to address one point to make clear what I’m not arguing.   Daniel argues that I’m probably overstating the effects of a Romney win, because:

Recall, Obama’s whole strategy was based around abandoning all other priorities such as carbon tax, an effective stimulus bill, half his nominations, most of the financial sector reforms and so forth, all to concentrate on passing health care. And he only got about half of that – the version passed was something he’d specifically camapigned against as not being anything like radical enough. So given that, how are we to suppose that President Romney would be able to push through an agenda five times as radical, including the ultimate third-rail issue of abortion?

Well, actually, it’s not hard at all.   Let’s return to what I said Romney could do:

the repeal of the ACA, the overruling of Roe v. Wade, the gutting of environmental and civil rights enforcement, massive upper-class tax cuts, etc. etc. etc.

Most of this list, you’ll notice, addresses this problem in advance by not focusing on things Romney can do that require difficult new legislation. On the first — repeal of the ACA — Daniel has a point; in the event that the Democrats maintain control of the Senate (less likely but not impossible in a context where Romney wins) it would be very difficult; if the Republicans take over the Senate, quite likely but not a sure thing. The next three, though, are issues where the executive branch has substantial control. If Ginsburg (turns 80 next year, multiple cancer survivor) or Breyer resigns, all Romney will need for Roe to be overruled is to get a generic conservative Supreme Court nominee confirmed, and Obama was able to get a generic contemporary liberal confirmed twice. At a minimum, it’s a risk you’d be crazy to take. As long as Republicans have the House or 40+ Senators Romney can gut EPA, civil rights and other enforcement very substantially. (Presidents have limited power to pass new legislation, but after-the-fact regulation and enforcement is a different story.) Tax cuts, I will grant, will require new legislation — but since this is an issue that unites congressional Republicans, attracts a handful of conservative Senate Democrats if necessary, and favors the most powerful interests in American society, this isn’t exactly a heavy lift comparable to passing cap-and-trade. I don’t think my description of what Romney is likely to accomplish is in any way unrealistic, particularly if one considers that while ACA repeal is far from a sure thing we can be confident that the remaining list is far from exhaustive.

Speaking of which, a final point. It could be the primary factor explaining why Democrats find it much more difficult to pass legislation adversely affecting powerful monied interests than Republicans do stopping such initiatives or passing legislation desired by powerful monied interests is that Republicans are much more strategically adept. I can think of another, far more persuasive explanation. As I’ve said before, I thought that at a minimum we could all agree with Schattschneider’s observation that “the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent,” but apparently not.

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