I Need an Answer to This Question

What’s your stance on immigration? How will you deal with ISIS? Do we need boots on the ground in Syria? What about taxes? Minimum wage? Gun control? Planned parenthood? Climate change?

Of course, these are important questions that all presidential candidates need to answer but we already know how Hillary and Bernie will answer them.

So here we go:

Easy path to citizenship. Air strikes. No. Highest rates for the highest earners. Raise it. Lots of it. Fund it. It’s real. Donald Trump is a maniacal racist – not an answer to anything but they’d say it anyway. 

That’s why these questions, while important in a general election, don’t mean an awful lot in the primaries. The real question is how would Clinton or Sanders handle Republicans in Congress. It’s the only question that matters and they haven’t answered it yet.

It would take a historical upset of epic proportions for the G.O.P. to not control Congress for the entire first term of the next presidency. So – if the next president is a Democrat – big pronouncements on taxes or health care or education or regulatory policy are all well and good, but don’t mean anything if there’s no plan to manage the circus that is our federal government.

Example? How about the Democrat running the country right now? It’s been five years since Republicans regained at least one house of Congress and Obama’s strategies to manage it have left much to be desired. He tried to partner with Republicans to get things he wanted. Strike 1. That resulted in the Budget Control Act which generated trillions of dollars in spending cuts and an artificial budget cap. Big win for the Republicans.

The next move was to go around congress by issuing executive actions on immigration, climate change, and net neutrality. Of course, that tactic was popular with progressives because Obama was finally getting some sh*t done. It was less popular with Republicans. Is it possible for that statement to be any more of an undersell?  That’s not a good thing for a Democratic president when Republicans control government funding. Strike 2. The President may not be interested in Congress, but Congress is most definitely interested in the President.

Recently, the negotiating strategy has been not negotiating. Obama’s recent apathy toward Congress – combined with a broken Democratic caucus – led to Republicans dictating what policies would be included in a spending bill with almost no input from the White House. Strike 3.

The President’s disinterest in working with Congress has continued throughout 2015. A Highway Trust Fund reauthorization with multiple deregulatory measures passed Congress and the president signed off on it. There are two more bills that Obama isn’t engaged with out there right now. A spending deal containing hundreds of conservative policy riders – gifts to private equity firms, oil companies, and investment managers – and a tax extenders package filled with permanent tax breaks for corporations in which new spending must be “paid for” but tax cuts don’t.

The White House’s only input has been that Congress needs to pass a spending bill to avoid a shutdown. Obama hasn’t met with Speaker Paul Ryan since he was appointed nearly two months ago. He’s pretty much leaving it up to Congress to figure things out. Strike 4?

Since the one thing all Americans – regardless of political affiliation – can agree on is that we hate Congress, it’s a good for Obama’s ratings to separate himself from that mess. However, it isn’t so great for actual policy. A new Democratic president is going to have to figure out a way to manage the chaos. Republicans have successfully linked their political priorities to must-pass bills, and dared the White House to stop them. You can bet that’ll continue if Hillary finds herself in the Oval Office in 2017.

Clinton has said that Democrats “should do everything they can” to stop riders that would deregulate Wall Street. Um, okay? That’s no answer at all. Would her administration actively engage with a Republican Congress, adopt Obama’s recent “innocent bystander” approach, or does she have an original idea to limit the damage from whatever garbage Congress spits out next?

We can ask the Democratic candidates policy questions until we’re blue in the face, but it’s just wasted hot air if we never ask them how they’ll deal with their day-to-day adversaries in Congress. Without an answer to that, Democratic voters might as well flip a coin.

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A lucky man. Also a lawyer. Classic oxymoron.

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