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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) — Congress is like a seamless web where every action has an effect on those that follow, the late Richard Bolling, a longtime member of the House and a congressional scholar, used to remind young reporters.

The Barack Obama administration will confront that reality this autumn in the aftermath of its request for congressional approval for a military strike against Syria.

The outcome remains in doubt, though there may be an even chance that after a near-death experience or two, Congress will authorize a strike in a close vote.

There is little doubt, however, that this struggle, which will occupy most of September, will affect other big issues: the high-stakes deficit and debt-ceiling battle, the fate of a comprehensive immigration bill in the House — and perhaps in the Senate — and the nomination of the next chairman of the Federal Reserve.

This is mostly downside for the White House. If President Obama wins on Syria, most Republicans who supported him will want to take their distance on other issues; the party’s base is dominated by Obama haters. Getting the reluctant backing of some liberal Democrats for military action might add to the tension on the fiscal issues and the Fed pick.

Some Obama loyalists make the case that the Syria resolution, if approved, could lead to other successes. Working across party lines might prove contagious, precipitating a search for more common ground.

“It’s too early to tell what the fallout from this vote will be on other issues,” says Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the leading House Democrat on fiscal issues, but “there will be ripple effects.”

Others believe a Kumbaya moment just isn’t possible in the Washington of today: “If a Republican gives the president a vote on this, they’ll have to go back to the base on the fiscal stuff and maybe the Fed,” says former Republican Representative Tom Davis, an astute analyst of U.S. politics.

House Speaker John Boehner, who will probably be part of a distinct minority of his caucus in voting for the Syria measure, will be under enormous pressure to move right. “Coming right on the heels of Syria, House Republicans have to get something in return on debt,” Davis says.

The Democrats, who are counting on winning at least the public-opinion battle in the fiscal war, may find it harder to depict Republican leaders as partisan nihilists if those leaders have just bailed out the president on Syria.

Democrats are worried that after using all his chits to get barely enough votes for the strike resolution, Obama — whose negotiating skills are suspect to many on Capitol Hill — might then be too eager to cut a fiscal deal.

Especially worrisome would be if Republicans demanded, as the price for Syria, a rollback of the cuts to defense spending under sequestration. Liberals are adamant that any changes to the automatic reductions must apply equally to domestic and military programs.

Immigration reform, which cleared the Senate handily, already faces a tough slog in the Republican-controlled House. As with the deficit and the debt-ceiling increase, the Syria debate and vote won’t make this any easier.

Final passage of comprehensive legislation, with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, can be achieved only with a minority of Republicans. That would force the Speaker to waive the so-called Hastert rule, which asserts that a bill only can be considered if it commands the support of a majority of the Republican caucus. Boehner will already have had to waive the rule for the Syria vote and may not be able to return to the well.

There is no rational reason the confirmation of the next Fed chairman should be affected by any of this. Congress isn’t a rational institution these days, and the president’s preferred choice for head of the central bank, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, is a contentious figure in a wide array of political constituencies.

Many conservative Republicans oppose Summers’s nomination because they hold him responsible for the economic stimulus and the rescue of the automobile industry, and because he served as president of Harvard University, a supposed hotbed of liberal orthodoxy. He has incurred the wrath of some Democratic liberals for spearheading financial deregulation in the late 1990s and working for Wall Street after leaving his position as director of the National Economic Council in 2010.

A top Democratic Senate strategist worries that the administration would have a hard time selling a Summers nomination to the same liberal senators — Tom Harkin, Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren — it is now trying to woo on Syria.

If Summers is tapped — he’s the clear frontrunner — Obama would count on support from key Republicans such as Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Graham is fighting a primary challenge from Tea Party conservatives, who criticize him for supporting the president on immigration, Syria and for his approach to the sequestration.

The stakes for Obama on Syria are impossible to exaggerate. A loss would make his presidency appear impotent and damage the U.S.’s global standing. The president realizes this: He called skeptical senators from the Group of 20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia; he talked to one Democrat for more than a half-hour, the longest one-on-one conversation that lawmaker has had with him. The president is scheduled to deliver a national address from the Oval Office on September 10. Will he enlist former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lobby wavering Democrats?

A victory in Congress on Syria would be an important achievement. It may only be short-lived politically.

(Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist.)

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • John Pigg

    If Obama wins on Syria, it will not be because Republicans came around and took his side.

    Essentially he is taking their side. Obama is moving closer to McCain not the other way round. The question is how many flag waving, law and order Republicans will he be able to garner.

    The Republican Party is far more splintered on the issue of military intervention. In essence you have three groups, the first are ideologically honest members of the hawk faction, personified by McCain. The second group are what I would like to call “Obama Haters”, this group stands against any idea or policy that the President puts forth. The third group is personified by Rand Paul and stands against Bush era military policies and the NSA. Granted there are some overlaps between these groups.

    It’s hard telling how these factions will be swayed, but the possibility of meaningful military cuts is becoming more and more distant.

  • Sand_Cat

    All the Democrats have to do is make it clear to the president that no “compromise” of the type described will make it through the senate. Fat chance, right?

  • Dominick Vila

    The upcoming vote in Congress will reflect the sentiment being expressed by an unlikely coalition of anti-war Democrats and Republicans driven by a desire to destroy President Obama’s record and credibility.
    The damage that their position will cause to our international credibility, and the likelihood of Saudi Arabian Wahhabis, the Iranian Ayatollahs, and Russia and China expanding their sphere of influence in a part of the world critical to our interests and global economy is a small price to pay if that is what it takes to achieve their respective goals.

  • TZToronto

    Speaking of Obama haters, I was just thinking about what Congress will be like if Hillary Clinton is elected President in 2016. Will it be more of the same? With the foundation of health care reform in place (ACA), will she go after single payer with private insurers shut out? Will obstructionism be SOP for Republicans? Will the Tea Party still control the far-right saboteurs? I simply do not see the Republican Party, with its women-haters, cooperating with Hillary Clinton. I think more of the same is looking likely–unless the great mass of the people see what the far-right crazies have been doing to the country.

    • Dominick Vila

      It will not be long before the focus shifts from President Obama to Hillary Clinton. I expect the GOP to be as obstructionist and uncooperative as it has been since President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009. The main difference may be the way Hillary will react to the criticisms. She strikes me as a person who will not ignore a threat or a fight, and who will fight fire with fire. The Tea Party may be forced to change tactics. Demonization and unsubstantiated claims may not get them very far if Hillary is our nominee in 2016.

  • Angel Perea

    THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH: The current War weary reaction against the
    President proposal for limited actions in Syria is due the Bush/Cheney
    dishonest and responsible Military actions to a start a war in Iraq based upon
    falsified facts without justification that resulted in killings of thousands of
    American warriors and civilians and wasted trillions! And, disregard listening to the Chicken Hawks with their previous dishonest political game playing and the negative vote in British Parliament (thanks Mr. Tony Blair) that are the consequences of why the past War in Iraq was so irresponsible and stupid Therefore, there needs to be a thoughtful process! This situation is not time sensitive to rushes into action, yet! Now there currently exists little trust by Americans that was created by Bush/Cheney and their Chicken Hawks!

  • howa4x

    Obama was smart pulling the congress into the Syria not stupid. He really didn’t want to get involved in this but was pushed by Neo-cons like McCain and Graham and all the right wing talking heads that said he was doing nothing while this genocide was happening. Now the neo-cons are in a bind. If they support Obama they loose the isolationist base, if they vote no then their interventionist policies that pushed us into 2 wars will be repudiated. Either way they loose. This vote will also split the republicans down the middle and break the myth of unity. This division will hurt them in the immigration, debt ceiling, and budget fights. Once the party breaks up on a vote like this then members will feel freer to vote for what they think is right later on. Also the republicans are holding the bag on the other issues not Obama. If the house kills immigration then the Latino’s will desert them forever. If they balk on the debt ceiling and cause a default then every economist will blame them if the economy slips backward, and seniors who are already concerned with the Tea party extremism will desert the party also. All Obama has to do is not blink and hold the line. Let the republicans make all the moves now.

    • JohnRNC

      Yes, I agree! And I also think that if Obama had done nothing or acted without going to Congress he would find himself in far worse shape (especially on the budget). If he had authorized a strike without congressional approval we/they would probably be even more distracted by impeachment proceedings as the Republicans would promptly set aside any precedents and go after him for [potentially] violating the War Powers Act.

      At least now Congress is being forced to do something that more closely resembles their job description instead of just trying to “beat Obama”.