CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Elections have consequences, both nationally and locally. While the re-election of President Obama was not the overwhelming endorsement he might have hoped, it was a strong enough statement by American voters that they have confidence in him and his approach to governing.
Even with high unemployment and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, Democrats gained seats in the House and Senate at the expense of some very high profile tea party endorsed candidates. Moreover, the overwhelming majorities of African-Americans, Hispanics, and women who voted for the president sent Republicans a clear message that they were headed in the wrong direction.
Obama came to office promising to work with the other side to get things done, but over four years it became clear that the other side would not work with him. That is, they were pleased when he endorsed their proposals, but they would not compromise to accept his. As we enter the second term, many have pointed out that fundamentally nothing is different: We still have a Republican majority in the House, a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democratic President.
But something is different. The Republican minority is fractured, no longer an unbending wall. For the first time since the nail-biting passage of the Affordable Care Act, I am feeling hopeful that progress on solving some of the country's thorny budget and deficit problems has a chance.
I am no expert on internal Republican politics, but two things give me hope -- the passage of the last minute "fiscal cliff" deal and the passage of disaster funding for victims of Hurricane Sandy. While the lead up to the vote on the fiscal cliff included a replay of the failed "Grand Bargain" negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner and the president, in which House Republicans could not say yes to anything that included a rise in tax rates, in the end, a majority of Senate Republicans voted for the rise in tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, and Boehner allowed the bill to be voted on despite the fact it did not have the support of a majority of House Republicans.
This is not the way he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did business in the past. Since we have not heard anything about rebellion in the House ranks, one must assume that they are resigned to playing the role of dissenters, not obstructionists for the time being.
But what about threats not to raise the debt ceiling or to shut down the government? I said I felt hope, but I don't have a crystal ball. My hope is that the threats are just that, threats. In the end, as they did for the cliff and on Hurricane Sandy, they will, in the end, do what needs to be done. There are enough Republicans in the Senate, and, it seems, about 50 in the House, who, given the opportunity, will vote with Democrats on legislation that moves the country forward.