What will an Obama administration and a Congress with increased Democratic majorities do? That's a relevant question, given the Democrats' leads in the polls. And it's a little hard to answer, given the financial crisis that has been raging and the recession that seems to be ahead.
One thing they will certainly do is raise taxes on high earners. The Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire in 2010, and congressional Democrats will gleefully allow the top rates to rise. Left-leaning Democrats, like Barack Obama himself, want to "spread the wealth around," as the candidate told Joe the Plumber in October. Blue Dog Democrats want to reduce the budget deficit and will welcome the additional revenue that the Congressional Budget Office's static-analysis models will promise. Raising taxes when the economy is weakening is not the medicine prescribed by Keynesian economics, and it is probably not what Obama's economic advisers would prescribe if they were starting from scratch today. It is what Herbert Hoover and Congress did in the early 1930s, and it helped to produce the Great Depression. But it is baked into the pie.
So is a slide toward trade protectionism. The breakdown of the Doha Round and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's refusal to bring the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to a vote mean that both multilateral and bilateral trade liberalism channels are clogged. Obama may or may not try to renegotiate NAFTA, as both Canada and Mexico have center-right governments satisfied with current arrangements. But the trend will be toward less free trade.
The prospects are cloudier for two other issues on which Obama has made big promises. Much of the next Congress's time and psychic energy will be taken up with refashioning financial regulation -- a subject of considerable difficulty. And the looming recession will make it politically risky for Democrats to push big spending programs.
This means that Congress in the next two years may not pass Obama's national health insurance plan. The weakening economy and the enraged reaction earlier this year to $4-a-gallon gasoline also make it less likely that Congress will pass carbon reduction legislation -- certainly not a carbon tax and probably not a cap-and-trade system.
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