These Are Tumultuous Times In Washington
A benchmark election looms for a politically divided nation, and bitter partisanship in Congress could threaten the financial stability of the U.S. government if lawmakers cannot agree on how to deal with tax increases and dramatic budget cuts that could kick in at the end of the year. Meanwhile, new campaign finance laws have changed the shape of elections, allowing wealthy, often anonymous donors to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the presidential and congressional campaigns.
Against those backdrops, the Reuters Washington Summit shed light on the political and economic forces that are driving the debates in the nation’s capital and beyond. The Summit featured a range of key players in Washington, including U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican widely viewed as a top contender to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who as House speaker was a key player in passing President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul in 2010; and Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate whose influence in Washington is such that many see him as a key reason for conservative lawmakers’ reluctance to compromise on budget and debt issues.
Over three days, news from the Reuters Summit help to drive the political narrative in Washington. For a summary recap report of the Summit, click here.
U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, revealed that a growing number of lawmakers in his party were leaning toward allowing tax cuts passed during George W. Bush’s presidency to expire, a provocative move that would raise taxes on Americans and force both parties into intense negotiations on federal taxes and the budget.
Reuters clients and readers also got a glimpse of some Republican lawmakers’ frustrations with others in their party who have steadfastly declined to consider any proposals to increase government revenue. At a time when Republican House Speaker John Boehner refuses to use the word “compromise,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri expressed frustration at such intransigence. “I could get in lots of trouble in the current environment saying I think we should have more compromise,” Blunt told a roundtable of Reuters journalists. But “I believe compromise is the price for living in a democracy.”
Throughout the Summit, our guests revealed how both political parties are shaping their strategies in what are likely to be very close races for the White House and control of Congress. U.S. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, gave a hint of the anxiety within his party by acknowledging that he had urged his party’s congressional candidates to not attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early September, and instead stay home to campaign.
“If they want to win an election,” Israel said, “they need to be in their districts.”
During her appearance on the Summit’s final day, Pelosi made a prescient prediction on how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule the following day in determining whether President Obama’s healthcare overhaul was constitutional. Pelosi said she believed the court would uphold the law by a 6-3 vote, with conservative justice John Roberts joining conservative Anthony Kennedy and the court’s four more liberal justices in the majority. The next day the ruling was 5-4 to uphold the law. Kennedy sided with the court’s conservative wing, but the core of Pelosi’s prediction was on the mark: Roberts, in a move that will be dissected for years, sided with the court’s liberal wing to preserve the Democratic president’s signature achievement in domestic policy.
Click here to read all the exclusives and full coverage of the Reuters Washington Summit.
By David Lindsey, Washington Editor-at-Large