Premature celebration by Republicans?

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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Here’s one rule that is almost always true inside the Beltway:

Whenever all the media and political establishment are jumping on the telephone wire like a horde of blackbirds, embracing the same conventional wisdom about the results of an election, the usual rule to follow is to jump in the other direction.

One recent example is that the CW after the 1994 deluge that brought the new speaker, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), to power was that President Clinton was in serious trouble and a likely one-term lame duck. Then came welfare reform, a pathway to a balanced budget working with a Republican Congress, the 1996 reelection and — put aside the hyper-partisan impeachment diversion — the finale of an unprecedented 65 percent approval rating on Mr. Clinton’s last day in office.

So following Tuesday night’s Republican deluge, the CW is now that the Obama administration’s progressive agenda will be stymied and the Republicans and particularly the business community will get their way. Their prime goal, which they think they will achieve early on in the next Congress, is repealing President Obama’s landmark national healthcare system.

Well, to my Republican friends, think again. My counter-to-CW take: Despite Tuesday’s bleak results for Democrats, Barack Obama and the Democrats can both get a lot done to achieve their progressive agenda — and to prevent the more Republican Congress from significantly rolling back his administration’s major achievements in the first two years, including healthcare.

There are two factors. One, the administration can enact laws by regulation, rather than by congressional action. It takes a grain of statutory authority, it seems, for an administration to issue regulations that have the force of law. Republican administrations did so to achieve conservative goals — such as regulations opening up oil reserves on national park lands. And now the Obama administration can and will do the same thing — including more aggressive independent agencies, such as the FTC and the FCC, that are dominated by liberal leaders and agendas.

The only way to overturn those regulations is to challenge them in the courts, which is both difficult and usually takes years to achieve a result, or to pass a law that overturns the regulation.

Which brings me to the second reason why Republicans and the business community cheering about Tuesday night’s results may be ill-founded: and that is the difficulty of getting anything done in the Congress in light of the need for 60 votes in the Senate to enact legislation (i.e., the “cloture” number to shut down a filibuster).

Remember when the Republicans were blocking every Obama initiative by requiring 60 votes in the Senate? And remember the Obama administration, liberal Democratic senators and liberal huffers-and-puffers on cable TV stations fretting and fuming about how anti-small-“d”-democratic the Republicans were for not abiding by majority rule?

At the same time, remember how the Republicans praised the 60-vote rule as forcing deliberation and moderation in Congress, requiring the majority tyrants to reach out and seek bipartisan compromise?

Well, when it comes time for Republicans to try to reverse ObamaCare, guess who will be loving the 60-vote cloture requirement and the historical institution of the filibuster. You guessed it. The Democrats and their liberal allies. And guess who will applaud bringing back majority rule to the U.S. Senate. Yes — no surprise — the Republicans, who will want to repeal ObamaCare with only 51, not 60, votes.

You get the picture.

So, to my Republican and Democratic friends, I would suggest to you both: Keep your powder dry before you get too happy (or, for Democrats, too sad) about the election results.

And remember one absolutely unbreakable rule that you can take to the bank: The American political pendulum may swing one way or another from one election cycle to another, but sooner or later it returns to the center, and in the meantime, Republicans will be passing by Democrats, and Democrats will be passing by Republicans, as they assume each other’s previous political posturing and positioning.

Stay tuned.

This piece appears today, November 4, 2010, in Mr. Davis’s regular weekly column in The Hill and in The Daily Caller.

Lanny Davis is the principal in the legal/media/legislative strategies firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates. The headline is the subtitle of his Clinton White House memoir: Truth To Tell: Tell It All, Tell It Early, Tell It Yourself: Notes From My White House Education (The Free Press, 1999).