With the elections approaching and the conservative base getting drunk on the idea of retaking both chambers of Congress, top leaders in the Republican Party have begun the process of trying to temper expectations for the next legislative session.
The effort seemed more obvious than before last week, when National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair John Cornyn (R-Tex.) threw a bit of cold water on the idea that the new Congress would suddenly be able to rid the country of the president's health care law.
"Even if we controlled the House, unless we controlled the Senate and got 60 votes, we wouldn't be able to pass any corresponding legislation in the Senate," said the Texas Republican. "So I think, we need to keep expectations, again, fairly modest as far as what we can do over the next two years."
On Monday, another prominent GOP leader joined the chorus of the sober-minded. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, speaking to the Wall Street Journal's economic editor Steve Moore, offered his hope of avoiding a government shutdown -- the very same type of political brinksmanship that others in the GOP tent have cheered.
"I don't think the country needs or wants a shutdown," Cantor said. Republicans, he added, "have to be careful about how we [legislate]. We don't want to be seen as a bunch of yahoos."
Together, Cornyn and Cantor's comments suggest a concern within the Republican tent over what type of reality the party will confront after November. While activist enthusiasm has fueled the GOP's electoral hopes, it's also put lawmakers in a rather untenable position -- promising the base the type of dramatic political confrontations it craves despite knowing that those confrontations could take a serious toll.
Late last Friday, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour underscored this friction when he told the Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum conference that Republicans won't have actual power to shape legislation over the next two years even if they take over both chambers of Congress.
"At best, you will have a Republican House and a Republican Senate and a Democratic president. So there can't be a big reform agenda if Obama is vetoing. President Clinton on the other hand chose to triangulate... and that is to try and work with the Republican Congress on some things like welfare reform, which, though we vetoed it twice, he ultimately signed the bill. Will President Obama do that? Obviously, I don't know. But you shouldn't have the expectation that you have a Republican House, a fairly close Senate, and a Democratic president, that all the sudden the Republican House is going to go run the country. It will not."
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