Pelosi’s Loss Could Be Obama’s Gain

A pivot to the center (and re-election) would be easier without the House speaker.

By FRED BARNES

In Washington these days, President Obama is rumored to be hoping Republicans capture the House of Representatives in the midterm election in November. There’s no evidence for this speculation, so far as I know, but it’s hardly far-fetched. If Mr. Obama wants to avert a fiscal crisis and win re-election in 2012, he needs House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be removed from her powerful post. A GOP takeover may be the only way.

Given the deficit-and-debt mess that Mr. Obama has on his hands, a Republican House would be a godsend. A Republican Senate would help, too. A Republican majority, should it materialize, could be counted on to pass significant cuts in domestic spending next year—cuts that Mrs. Pelosi and her allies in the House Democratic hierarchy would never countenance.

Though Mr. Obama’s preferred solution to his fiscal predicament would probably be a very large tax increase, it’s a nonstarter. He needs spending cuts to assuage both markets and voters. It was the surge in spending—the stimulus, omnibus budget and the health-care legislation—that prompted the tea party protests, alienated independent voters, and caused the rapid decline in his popularity.

The test is whether Mr. Obama can restrain nondefense discretionary spending. That’s the spending over which Washington exerts the greatest control. Even small cuts in entitlement spending are difficult to enact, but the president and Republicans might reach agreement there as well. That would be a political bonus for Mr. Obama, softening his image as a tax-and-spend liberal. Again, this would be impossible if Ms. Pelosi still runs the House.

Over the past 50 years, it should be no surprise which president has the best record for holding down discretionary spending. It was President Reagan. But who was second best? President Clinton, a Democrat. His record of frugality was better than Presidents Nixon, Ford and both Bushes. Mr. Clinton couldn’t have done it if Republicans hadn’t won the House and Senate in the 1994 election. They insisted on substantial cuts, he went along and then whistled his way to an easy re-election in 1996.

Here are the numbers: Average nondefense discretionary outlays per year under Nixon and Ford increased 39.7% over those of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, followed by another 39% boost under Mr. Carter, a 14% drop under Mr. Reagan, a 12% jump under the first Mr. Bush, a 7.6% hike under Mr. Clinton, and a 31.2% increase under the second Mr. Bush.

Only four times in the past half century have nondefense discretionary expenditures in real terms decreased in a two-year congressional cycle. And only Reagan’s first Congress—controlled by Democrats—cut more (15.5%) than the Republican Congress that Mr. Clinton faced after the 1994 election (3.7%). The other two reductions came under Reagan (2.5%, the 1986-87 budgets) and the younger Mr. Bush (.01%, the 2006-07 budgets).

If defense spending, which is also discretionary, is included, the result is the same. Mr. Clinton, working with a Republican majority, is second to Reagan. And in his new book, “Never Enough, America’s Limitless Welfare State,” William Voegeli of the Claremont Institute found that “welfare state” spending since FDR increased less under Mr. Clinton than under any president except Reagan.

Let’s assume Mr. Obama recognizes that the fiscal and economic peril facing the country because of trillion dollar deficits is a problem for him as well. At the moment, the 10-year deficit tab is pegged to be as low as $6 billion (Congressional Budget Office) or as high as $13 trillion (Heritage Foundation). Either way, the public is alarmed.

Mr. Obama’s re-election to a second term is heavily dependent on his ability to deal effectively with the fiscal mess. He could try to push a big tax hike, like a value-added tax, through a lame duck Congress after the November election. But that’s very much a long shot. Besides, higher taxes—on top of those from expiration of the Bush tax cuts—could infuriate voters all the more.

For Mr. Obama, serious spending cuts are the only sensible means of dealing with a potential debt crisis or at least an unsustainable fiscal situation. However, he may not be able to rely on reductions in military spending, as liberal Democrats usually prefer. Mr. Obama has already included deep defense cuts in his budget, and Republicans are unlikely to go along with even deeper cuts.

Mrs. Pelosi won’t be any help. She’s committed to enacting the Democratic Party’s entire liberal agenda, and next to the president she is the most powerful person in Washington. When the president flirted with scaling back his health-care bill last January, Ms. Pelosi stiffened his spine, and the bill passed. As long as she is House speaker, bucking her would be painful, especially if Mr. Obama proposes to eliminate a chunk of the spending she was instrumental in passing in 2009 and 2010.

But if Republicans win the House, everything changes. Mrs. Pelosi’s influence as minority leader would be minimal—that is, assuming she’s not ousted by Democrats upset over losing the majority.

Mr. Obama would be in a position to make his long-awaited pivot to the center. With Republicans in charge, he’d have to be bipartisan. He’d surely have to accede to serious cuts in spending—even as he complains they are harsh and mean-spirited. Mr. Obama could play a double game, appeasing Democrats by criticizing the cuts and getting credit with everyone else by acquiescing to them.

Mr. Clinton did this brilliantly in 1996. He fought with Republicans over the budget, winning some battles, losing others, as he lurched to the center. He twice vetoed Republican welfare reform bills, then signed a similar measure. He was hailed as the president who overhauled the unpopular welfare system.

In recent months, the president has met repeatedly with Mr. Clinton. We can only guess what they talked about. But given Mr. Clinton’s own experience, I suspect he suggested to Mr. Obama that Republicans could be the answer to his political prayers. In 1994, Republicans freed the president from the clutches of liberal Democratic leaders in Congress. In 2010, they can do it again.

Mr. Barnes is executive editor of the Weekly Standard and a commentator on Fox News Channel. Weekly Standard intern Peyton Miller provided research for this article.

Fisher For Congress/1st District/Maryland

Rob Fisher to Run For Congress

(Salisbury) Republican Rob Fisher today announced he will run for Congress in Maryland’s First District after submitting a Statement of Candidacy to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). A small businessman, veteran and Eastern Shore native, Fisher is looking to bring real leadership to Congress that puts the needs of Maryland residents first.

“At a time when the people of the First District are struggling to make ends meet, Congress is more concerned with forcing job-killing legislation down the throats of taxpayers instead of helping lead us through these turbulent economic times,” said Fisher. “Maryland deserves a representative with real-world experience who will put people ahead of party and bring an entrepreneurial spirit to Congress. I pledge to be a tireless advocate for my constituents and make job creation my first priority.”

A serial entrepreneur who has run several successful small businesses in the First District and the Capitol Region, Fisher knows first-hand the challenges faced by small businesspeople and the barriers to success that have been championed by Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats. Fisher’s current company, Secure Infrastructure Solutions — a Cyber Security firm helping to safeguard America’s National Security assets — has been able to grow and expand despite the terrible economic conditions of the past two years.

“My company has grown in spite of Congress, not because of it,” said Fisher. “Small businesses need government to be their loudest cheerleader, not their biggest detractor.”

Fisher will run an issues-based, grassroots campaign that will focus on the needs of the residents of the First District. His campaign will be opening offices on the Eastern Shore, Anne Arundel County and the Baltimore area.

“The First District needs a Congressman who will put Maryland first,” said Fisher. “Career politicians have had their chance. It’s time for Congress to show real leadership, listen to the people’s concerns and find innovative solutions to our country’s problems.”

Mr. Fishers office number is 443-859-3342.

Read more here.

Tea Parties vs. Unions in November

The two groups get much different media scrutiny.

By JOHN FUND

Elections this month have enhanced the political clout of two groups widely separated on the political spectrum. The tea party movement stands to play an outsize role in the fall elections now that outsider Rand Paul has swept Kentucky’s GOP Senate primary, while unions provided the muscle for Democrats to win a key special election in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Paul’s victory comes just after Utah Sen. Bob Bennett was denied a place on the primary ballot by a GOP state convention dominated by tea party activists. In Kentucky, Dr. Paul beat a GOP establishment candidate by calling for spending restraint and an end to “Bailout Nation” policies. A new Rasmussen poll shows him leading his Democratic opponent by 25 points. Tea party-backed candidates also won key House primaries in Pennsylvania and Arkansas this week.

Democrats, fearful of the grass-roots enthusiasm that candidates such as Dr. Paul are able to generate, immediately accused him of being an elitist for holding his victory party at a country club. They also slammed him for suggesting physicians like him deserve to earn “a comfortable living” while supporting an end to farm subsidies.

Liberal attacks on the tea party have flipped completely. Largely gone are dismissals that they are rednecks and rubes. After a New York Times survey found tea partiers are generally better educated and wealthier than the general public, they are now attacked as aloof and out of touch with the concerns of average voters.

The criticism will only mount because tea party activists represent an injection of fresh blood and enthusiasm that threatens Democratic incumbents. They certainly expand the GOP voting base: A March Gallup poll found that 43% were registered independents and 8% declared themselves Democrats.

The rise of the tea party makes Democrats even more dependent on organized labor. In this week’s Pennsylvania special election for the late Jack Murtha’s seat, the AFL-CIO alone sent out 80,000 mailers on behalf of Democrat Mark Critz, along with 100,000 robocalls.

In Arkansas, unions showed their clout by forcing Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln into a June runoff with labor-backed Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Unions decided to make an example of her after she opposed the “card check” bill that limits the use of secret ballots in union elections. Unions, especially the Service Employees International Union, spent more than $3 million against her.

In contrast to the tea party, there has been far too little scrutiny of the SEIU, whose membership of government and health-care workers is the fastest-growing of any union in the country. Andy Stern, the just retired head of the SEIU, was found to be the most frequent guest at the Obama White House last year, stopping by 22 times between January and September, more than all congressional leaders and cabinet members.

The SEIU’s close ties to the discredited group Acorn have largely been ignored. The same is true for the violence perpetrated by some of its members.

Last August in St. Louis, tea party supporter Kenneth Gladney was set upon by SEIU members during a town-hall meeting on health care. They were apparently angry that an African-American was supporting the tea party and hurled the “n” word at him while beating him to the point where he required hospitalization. St. Louis County officials waited until November to press assault charges against two SEIU members. Four others were charged with interfering with police during the incident. All six have pleaded not guilty.

This week, Nina Easton of Fortune magazine reported on an incident in her Washington, D.C., neighborhood in which 500 screaming, placard-waving SEIU members and allies surrounded the home of Greg Baer, deputy general counsel at Bank of America, to protest bank foreclosures.

“Intimidation was the whole point of this exercise, and it worked—even on the police,” reported Ms. Easton, a neighbor of Mr. Baer. The protestors finally left, only to descend on the nearby home of Peter Scher, a J.P. Morgan Chase executive. “It appears we’ve crossed into a new era: the politics of personal intimidation,” Ms. Easton concludes.

You can expect friction between tea party activists and union members in coming months. Last month, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka gave a speech at Harvard in which he warned that anger at a sour economy was being transformed into dangerous “hatred” by the forces on the right.

At a time of heightened passions such as this election season, anyone who jumps proper political guardrails must be called on any excesses. As tea party members and unions vie for political supremacy this fall, it will be important for the media to scrutinize both and make sure their coverage is accurate and complete. So far the tea party—the new kids on the political block—have gotten far more attention than their union counterparts.

Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.

The Democrats’ Civil War

By Kim Strassel

The Democratic primaries are generating nominees who are embracing, or even going beyond, the president’s unpopular agenda.

What do Joe Sestak, Bill Halter and Colleen Hanabusa have in common? The left loves them. This is yet another reason Democrats are in trouble this fall.

Given the obsessive coverage of the Republican “civil war,” you may not realize Democrats are also feuding. Angry and disappointed that their president and Congress has not done more, the party’s liberal base is throwing itself into the primaries, pushing the party to the left even as the country moves right.

Ask Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who on Tuesday will fight to keep her party’s nomination against progressive Bill Halter, the state’s lieutenant governor. Also up for judgment that day is Sen. Arlen Specter. He has his new party’s full financial backing. Recent polls nonetheless show the liberal Mr. Sestak within striking distance.

Later next week Hawaii holds a special election to replace Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who resigned to run for governor. His district is Democratic, but the liberal Ms. Hanabusa is siphoning support from the party’s preferred candidate, former Rep. Ed Case. Republican Charles Dijou might win.

These races follow primaries in Ohio and North Carolina where the anointed Democrat fought damaging battles against insurgent liberals. Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher prevailed over Netroots favorite Jennifer Brunner, but not before she had drained Mr. Fisher’s campaign coffers. In North Carolina, the base’s preferred pick, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, has dragged the more conservative state Sen. Cal Cunningham into a June runoff.

True, candidates like Mrs. Lincoln and Mr. Specter are struggling against today’s anti-incumbent, anti-Washington fever. But the primary challenges are also the result of mismanaged expectations. Barack Obama allowed the left to believe he was one of them. Some of his campaign promises certainly fed its hopes: He’d close Guantanamo, pass union “card check,” renegotiate Nafta, leave Iraq. Adding to the left’s exuberance was the party’s filibuster-proof Senate majority.

But Guantanamo is still open, card check is still dead, Nafta is still functioning, and troops remain in Iraq. Meanwhile, the president dangled the public option in front of his liberal supporters, only to further enrage them when he lost that fight. All this has forced Democratic congressmen to take the blame for failures like card check.

The base has interpreted the policy failures as proof that the decision to sit back while the Democratic Party elected more moderates was a mistake. The response has been for unions and grass-roots groups to throw their money and support behind more liberal candidates. Democrats are currently battling as many, if not more, ugly primary challenges than Republicans.

No one exemplifies the dynamic better than Mrs. Lincoln. Over her 12 years in the Senate, she’s been careful to project herself as a Democrat in tune with Arkansas voters and business. The party leadership’s decision to push card check and the public option (both highly unpopular with the general public and the Arkansas public) forced Mrs. Lincoln to push back, which cast her as the spoiler of liberal dreams.

Mr. Halter was the result, propelled from the start by groups such as MoveOn.org. The lieutenant governor has run far to Mrs. Lincoln’s left, and in March, his first month of campaigning, he raised more than $2 million. And the left is unleashing money against his opponent; the Service Employees International Union recently unveiled a $1 million ad campaign against Mrs. Lincoln.

Win or lose, the base’s candidates are pulling the Democratic field left. Colorado’s appointed Sen. Michael Bennet was intending to win re-election by keeping his head down, splitting the difference on tough issues. Then, last September, the grass roots fueled former Colorado House speaker Andrew Romanoff’s entrance into the race, who announced his support for an ObamaCare public option. Not to be outdone in a closed Democratic primary, Mr. Bennet became the Senate’s most vocal public-option supporter.

Unfortunately for both men, the winner will now be on record supporting a position few in Colorado’s general electorate share. In Pennsylvania, Mr. Specter was against the unpopular card check; thanks to Mr. Sestak he’s now for it. Mr. Fisher was ambiguous about the Democratic health bill, until, prodded by Ms. Brunner, he declared “100%” support. These are positions that can’t easily be dialed back.

This lurch toward liberal priorities coincides with polls showing that the electorate— particularly independents—has shifted significantly to the right since Mr. Obama took office. While some Republican primaries are proving bloody, most are turning out candidates largely in tune with today’s public frustration with Washington.

The Democratic primaries, by contrast, are generating nominees who are embracing, or even going beyond, the president’s unpopular agenda. This is the feud that may have the bigger consequences for this fall’s midterms.