What to expect from Washington in 2011 - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

What to expect from Washington in 2011

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Posted: Monday, December 27, 2010 5:00 am | Updated: 1:46 pm, Mon Dec 27, 2010.

Nancy Pelosi shepherded everything that President Obama asked Congress for through the House. Her poll ratings are way less than his -- seven out of 10 Americans say they don't like her. In 2011, she will no longer be speaker of the House but will remain the leader of House Democrats.

The highly unpopular Harry Reid will still be Senate majority leader but will have a much tougher time getting Democratic bills passed.

The Congress that ended an amazing lame-duck session by passing a flurry of legislation once thought to be dead will be replaced. The new Congress includes Tea Partiers whose exact agenda remains murky but who are coming to town determined to change the status quo.

So, what can we expect from Washington in 2011?

There will be an incredible uproar over money. Obama will send his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 to Congress in early February even though Congress never even passed a 2011budget.

Republicans, who pushed for and won an extension of tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, will demand cuts in dozens of social programs. Even if they win, however, the savings will be a drop in the bucket; the national debt is headed toward $15 trillion. What we have done is take the private debt that nearly crippled the financial system and add it to the public debt.

As for legislation, it will be a hold-the-line year. No more major new programs such as health care or financial reform will pass. There will be no solution to the problem of Social Security and Medicare draining us dry. Unemployment will remain abnormally high. The housing market will stagger along but will not fully recover. The war in Iraq may be winding down, but the war in Afghanistan is not.

After his colossal 11th-hour wins (the new arms control treaty, the free-health-care law for 9/11 responders, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, a new food safety law, expansion of middle-class tax cuts and unemployment compensation), Obama will again be human, attacked by those on the left and the right as he tries to steer the ship of state somewhere in the middle.

A leader must be visionary, so Obama will again try to pursue simplifying the tax code, giving undocumented workers a chance at citizenship, improving education and infrastructure. But he will have a tough time getting anything through a bitterly divided, strenuously partisan Congress, and the usual cries that he is a weak leader will return.

The reason Obama got his string of last-minute legislative victories is that he caved on giving the richest a $700 billion tax cut. Yes, politics is the art of compromise, but in this case it came at the expense of good public policy. What will he compromise on next? "We celebrate wealth," he said at his Victory R Us press conference before flying off to a gated estate in Hawaii. We're left to ponder what that means.

Sometime in the next few months, Republican candidates for president in 2012 will start making I-am-running announcements. That's another huge diversion for our one-trick political pony away from grappling with the very real economic binds in which we have entangled ourselves.

Congress just spent another trillion dollars of money we don't have, which apparently is very easy to do. Once again we kicked the can down the road, pretending the economy will magically grow, tax coffers will be replenished and there will be enough money to pay baby boomers' Social Security benefits and medical bills.

Obama boasted that the gridlock widely predicted after the November election, which slapped so many Democrats upside the head, did not come to pass. But the hundred new legislators who defeated many of his supporters have not yet been sworn into office. January could be a rude awakening.

Republicans painted Pelosi and Reid as evildoers. But their Democratic confreres owe them a hearty "Congratulations. Now show us what you can do in 2011."

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.

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