President Obama’s re-election win last night was so scrutinized and double-scrutinized, I doubt I have anything to say about it that’s new. But the Senate races, where if the current standings hold Democrats will have won 25 of the 33 seats up for grabs last night, and expanded their majority to 55 (on the assumption that Angus King caucuses with them), deserves to be looked at more. Because it’s not just a partisan victory for Democrats, but an ideological one.
Elizabeth Warren and Joe Donnelly and Angus King picked up seats, and all of them are to the left of what is currently in that seat on most issues, to varying degrees (obviously Warren is significantly more liberal, while the other two more in the sense that they don’t have the pressures of voting with an obstructionist minority). But there’s more. Chris Murphy is well to the left of Joe Lieberman, enough that you could call that a pickup in itself. Tammy Baldwin is way to the left of Herb Kohl. Martin Heinrich is probably a little to the left of Jeff Bingaman. Heidi Heitkamp is probably a wash with Kent Conrad. And a number of the incumbents are free to vote a bit differently given that they won’t be up for re-election for 6 years.
You add all that up, and there’s simply no reason to do anything of value on these fiscal matters until that group arrives for the next Congress. Senate Democrats already passed a tax bill that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts on the first $250,000 of income, and lets it expire for everyone else. Their work is done, and if the House rejects it, Democrats have much more leverage to work with – and a stronger Senate caucus – next year. If the tax rates expire, they can come back with “Obama tax cuts.” If the sequester gets triggered, a better caucus can deal with it, while the executive branch delays any major effects in the first couple months of 2013. If the executive branch really wanted to, they could freeze tax withholding at 2012 levels. The only major near-term thing you have to do is extend the AMT patch for the 2012 tax year, and approximately every Congress ever has managed that.
By the way, not even John Boehner wants to do much in the lame duck. So there won’t even be much pressure to go with the inaction.
The watchword for the lame duck is “sit and wait.”