The most widely predicted course for Washington over the next two years is gridlock. "What we know is that we're going to have gridlock," says NBC's Chuck Todd. "On the big questions, especially federal spending and taxing, confrontation will be the order of the day [...] gridlock is likely to be the dominant theme," predicts Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein. Washington is in for "two years of legislative deadlock," holds Sarah Binder of the Brookings Institution. There will "absolutely" be "more intense" gridlock than there was before the 2010 elections, says Thomas Mann, also of the Brookings Institution.
As I see it, this is true only for liberal policies--not for conservative ones. It is already clear that conservatives will get basically the kind of extension of the Bush tax cuts they want--by far the biggest item for the near future, involving three or four trillion dollars, depending on the small print.
In addition, they will, in one way or another, undermine what they call "Obamacare," although they will not abolish it. And the same holds for the new financial regulations. That is, they will roll back "only" the two main achievements of the first two years of the Obama presidency.
In addition, the conservatives (GOP plus select Democrats) will get to cut the spending of most if not all discretionary federal programs. And, if recent news items are to be trusted, the GOP may even get Obama to lead the trimming of entitlements, all while conservatives hold that they would not go near Medicare and Social Security, even with a children's pair of scissors. In an interview on 60 Minutes shortly after the midterm elections, President Obama observed that "the vast majority of the federal budget are things that people really think are important. Like Social Security and Medicare and defense." He than added, "I mean, we're gonna have to [...] tackle some big issues like entitlements that, you know, when you listen to the Tea Party or you listen to Republican candidates they promise we're not gonna touch." If President Obama follows through and takes a knife to entitlement spending, the GOP is unlikely to oppose him -- and may well outflank him with deeper cuts of the kind seen in Representative Paul Ryan's "roadmap." The FDA, the EPA, funding for scientific research -- and above all, the new consumer protection agency -- are all in for a close haircut.
Even DC gun control regulations will be further trimmed (although there is not much left to cut).
And conservatives are very likely to get their way on key foreign policy issues. Surely they will prevent President Obama from disengaging in Afghanistan, which, as I see it, will be disastrous. They will get a $4 billion increase in funding for nuclear weapons facilities (besides the $10 billion already promised) before they will even consider approving the New START treaty. And Attorney General Holder is likely to find it even harder to try terrorists in civilian courts.
In a few areas, the GOP may even cooperate with the Democrats and the White House -- as long as their goals are compatible with the Republican agenda. More free trade and more charter schools for instance.
If this is gridlock, I do not know what you would call a major sweep.
Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor at the George Washington University and the author of The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics.