A Liberal Supermajority
Get ready for 'change' we haven't
seen since 1965, or 1933
Wall Street Journal editorial
page, October 17, 2008
If the current polls hold, Barack Obama
will win the White House on November 4 and Democrats will consolidate
their Congressional majorities, probably with a filibuster-proof
Senate or very close to it. Without the ability to filibuster,
the Senate would become like the House, able to pass whatever
the majority wants.
Though we doubt most Americans realize
it, this would be one of the most profound political and ideological
shifts in U.S. history. Liberals would dominate the entire government
in a way they haven't since 1965, or 1933. In other words, the
election would mark the restoration of the activist government
that fell out of public favor in the 1970s. If the U.S. really
is entering a period of unchecked left-wing ascendancy, Americans
at least ought to understand what they will be getting, especially
with the media cheering it all on.
The nearby table shows the major bills
that passed the House this year or last before being stopped by
the Senate minority. Keep in mind that the most important power
of the filibuster is to shape legislation, not merely to block
it. The threat of 41 committed Senators can cause the House to
modify its desires even before legislation comes to a vote. Without
that restraining power, all of the following have very good chances
of becoming law in 2009 or 2010.
* Medicare for all. When HillaryCare cratered
in 1994, the Democrats concluded they had overreached, so they
carved up the old agenda into smaller incremental steps, such
as Schip for children. A strongly Democratic Congress is now likely
to lay the final flagstones on the path to government-run health
insurance from cradle to grave.
Mr. Obama wants to build a public insurance
program, modeled after Medicare and open to everyone of any income.
According to the Lewin Group, the gold standard of health policy
analysis, the Obama plan would shift between 32 million and 52
million from private coverage to the huge new entitlement. Like
Medicare or the Canadian system, this would never be repealed.
The commitments would start slow, so as
not to cause immediate alarm. But as U.S. health-care spending
flowed into the default government options, taxes would have to
rise or services would be rationed, or both. Single payer is the
inevitable next step, as Mr. Obama has already said is his ultimate
* The business climate. "We have
some harsh decisions to make," Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned
recently, speaking about retribution for the financial panic.
Look for a replay of the Pecora hearings of the 1930s, with Henry
Waxman, John Conyers and Ed Markey sponsoring ritual hangings
to further their agenda to control more of the private economy.
The financial industry will get an overhaul in any case, but telecom,
biotech and drug makers, among many others, can expect to be investigated
and face new, more onerous rules. See the "Issues and Legislation"
tab on Mr. Waxman's Web site for a not-so-brief target list.
The danger is that Democrats could cause
the economic downturn to last longer than it otherwise will by
enacting regulatory overkill like Sarbanes-Oxley. Something more
punitive is likely as well, for instance a windfall profits tax
on oil, and maybe other industries.
* Union supremacy. One program certain
to be given right of way is "card check." Unions have
been in decline for decades, now claiming only 7.4% of the private-sector
work force, so Big Labor wants to trash the secret-ballot elections
that have been in place since the 1930s. The "Employee Free
Choice Act" would convert workplaces into union shops merely
by gathering signatures from a majority of employees, which means
organizers could strongarm those who opposed such a petition.
The bill also imposes a compulsory arbitration
regime that results in an automatic two-year union "contract"
after 130 days of failed negotiation. The point is to force businesses
to recognize a union whether the workers support it or not. This
would be the biggest pro-union shift in the balance of labor-management
power since the Wagner Act of 1935.
* Taxes. Taxes will rise substantially,
the only question being how high. Mr. Obama would raise the top
income, dividend and capital-gains rates for "the rich,"
substantially increasing the cost of new investment in the U.S.
More radically, he wants to lift or eliminate the cap on income
subject to payroll taxes that fund Medicare and Social Security.
This would convert what was meant to be a pension insurance program
into an overt income redistribution program. It would also impose
a probably unrepealable increase in marginal tax rates, and a
permanent shift upward in the federal tax share of GDP.
* The green revolution. A tax-and-regulation
scheme in the name of climate change is a top left-wing priority.
Cap and trade would hand Congress trillions of dollars in new
spending from the auction of carbon credits, which it would use
to pick winners and losers in the energy business and across the
economy. Huge chunks of GDP and millions of jobs would be at the
mercy of Congress and a vast new global-warming bureaucracy. Without
the GOP votes to help stage a filibuster, Senators from carbon-intensive
states would have less ability to temper coastal liberals who
answer to the green elites.
* Free speech and voting rights. A liberal
supermajority would move quickly to impose procedural advantages
that could cement Democratic rule for years to come. One early
effort would be national, election-day voter registration. This
is a long-time goal of Acorn and others on the "community
organizer" left and would make it far easier to stack the
voter rolls. The District of Columbia would also get votes in
Congress - Democratic, naturally.
Felons may also get the right to vote
nationwide, while the Fairness Doctrine is likely to be reimposed
either by Congress or the Obama FCC. A major goal of the supermajority
left would be to shut down talk radio and other voices of political
* Special-interest potpourri. Look for
the watering down of No Child Left Behind testing standards, as
a favor to the National Education Association. The tort bar's
ship would also come in, including limits on arbitration to settle
disputes and watering down the 1995 law limiting strike suits.
New causes of legal action would be sprinkled throughout most
legislation. The anti-antiterror lobby would be rewarded with
the end of Guantanamo and military commissions, which probably
means trying terrorists in civilian courts. Google and MoveOn.org
would get "net neutrality" rules, subjecting the Internet
to intrusive regulation for the first time.
It's always possible that events - such
as a recession - would temper some of these ambitions. Republicans
also feared the worst in 1993 when Democrats ran the entire government,
but it didn't turn out that way. On the other hand, Bob Dole then
had 43 GOP Senators to support a filibuster, and the entire Democratic
Party has since moved sharply to the left. Mr. Obama's agenda
is far more liberal than Bill Clinton's was in 1992, and the Southern
Democrats who killed Al Gore's BTU tax and modified liberal ambitions
are long gone.
In both 1933 and 1965, liberal majorities
imposed vast expansions of government that have never been repealed,
and the current financial panic may give today's left another
pretext to return to those heydays of welfare-state liberalism.
Americans voting for "change" should know they may get
far more than they ever imagined.