What can Obama do with a lame duck?

Obama’s moment of truth will come at the calling of the special “lame duck” session of Congress. This is when we see what meaning there is to all the mea culpas and all the pretty words in the President’s post-election news conference.

The House under the new Republican conservative orthodoxy has promised to reverse the tide of big government, or, none-dare-call-it, socialism, in the face of the election night rant of Harry Reid, promising to fight for as much of the old Obama, Pelosi, Reid progressive agenda as possible – even as the reins of power are slipping from their politically cold dead hands.

Where is the President in all this?

The telltale issue may well be the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Obama, Reid and Pelosi have hitherto been adamant that they will only be extended to those with incomes under $250,000. The party-of-no says “no” to any tax increases at all – and the failure to extend even a portion of this IS, by definition, a tax increase on those left out.

This is a very key issue, because Congress MUST pass one version of the extension or the other. They cannot afford to do nothing. In his press conference, the President talks of an extension for the “middle class.” These are the buzz words for the $250,000 break point.

Unless Reid and Pelosi have gotten religion, or a private message from the Oval Office, they are likely to pursue the old plan in the “lame duck” session.

The current Democrat strategy is to demand the passage of the OPR version, daring the Republicans to filibuster it – essentially killing the extension and raising everyone’s taxes. With no choice, the Republicans might have to capitulate.

But it would be a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats.

Should the President take the hard line, he will have effectively rendered his press conference conciliatory rhetoric meaningless. The new Congress will convene as a war party because the President will have fired the first shot of strident partisanship. Reid and House Speaker John Boehner will be two generals leading their forces into a two-year series of philosophic battles.

On the other hand, if Obama surrenders on the Bush tax issue, he will lose what remains of his core left-wing support and signal his willingness to let the Republican House set the agenda for the next two years. The President already has the progressives crazed with his press conference endorsement of capitalism, free-markets and corporate America.

What the President does in advance of the new Congress may well determine the last two years of his first term, or the last to years of his presidency.

*Image © Eric Allie*

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