June 24 (Bloomberg) — There are two widely discussed scenarios that could unfold in Washington this summer.
The first, embraced by the White House and some Democrats, is upbeat: The immigration bill passes the Senate with a big margin, making it almost impossible for House Republicans to resist; more people start signing up for President Barack Obama’s health-care law, and even though no fiscal grand bargain is in the offing, an improving economy gives the president a stronger hand in dealing with Republicans on extending the debt ceiling and on spending bills.
The so-called scandals recede: It becomes clear there was no political interference with the Internal Revenue Service, and the other controversies don’t resonate. The Middle East is still a cauldron, but it hasn’t gotten worse, and the administration’s pivot to Asia seems sensible.
The second sequence of events, foreseen by many Republicans and a few Democrats, is more dire: The once bright hopes for an immigration bill this year slip amid the usual petty partisanship; all other legislation and appointments are stalled, and an ugly fight over the debt ceiling rattles markets and hampers the economy.
Interest in the health-care exchanges remains lackadaisical as insurance premiums increase in anticipation of the law taking effect. An investigation of the IRS controversy by the Justice Department lacks credibility and the scandal persists.
In Syria and Iran, either the U.S. becomes embroiled in dangerous confrontations or Obama is seen as a feckless wimp. Republicans are licking their chops about winning control of the Senate next year and increasing their majority in the House, making the final Obama years a nightmare of recrimination, investigations and veto fights.
Obama, who prides himself on taking the long view and not getting caught up in the passions of the moment, rejects the notion of such make-or-break moments. Only a little more than 10 percent of the second term is complete.
Yet it isn’t unusual to establish a framework for success or failure of U.S. presidencies by the end of the first summer of the second term.
Eight years ago, George W. Bush’s post-re-election high hopes were dashed by Labor Day after an ill-considered effort to overhaul Social Security, a botched response to Hurricane Katrina and an increasingly discredited war in Iraq.
Two decades earlier, Ronald Reagan, despite the subsequent Iran-Contra debacle, set the benchmark for success: He was guided by Treasury Secretary Jim Baker on the domestic front, and a sweeping tax reform measure was on course. In foreign policy, Secretary of State George Shultz, working privately with First Lady Nancy Reagan, was taking control of a more measured, less bellicose approach.