Regional impact. In any case, health insurance and carbon reduction will be heavily lobbied, despite all the denunciations of lobbyists issued by Obama (and John McCain). Any one-size-fits-all healthcare bill affects various regions differently, because we have many healthcare delivery and finance systems across the country. The same goes for carbon reduction legislation, as the economies of some regions depend more heavily on coal than do others; it may be hard to convince voters there that we have to impose burdens on them today to achieve promised benefits in 2050. These disparities cut across party lines and helped defeat the Clinton healthcare proposals in 1994. They will probably come into play again if far-ranging bills are pressed forward.
Two issues pushed by Democrats in this Congress have no budgetary costs. One is the "fairness doctrine," which is intended to shut down talk radio, the one communications medium in which conservative voices are dominant. The other is the so-called card check bill, which requires employers to bargain with unions when
their organizers secure signatures on cards from a majority of employees; secret-ballot unionization elections, required now, would be a thing of the past. The aim is to vastly increase union membership, pumping money into a Democratic pressure group.
What might happen in the unlikely event McCain is elected and faces a Democratic Congress? Presumably he would try to hold tax rates down, but to do so he might have to embrace the kind of bipartisan tax reform enacted in 1986, with low rates and fewer preferences. Democrats might be willing to bargain if they could get rid of the alternative minimum tax, which threatens their core constituencies. McCain's plan to end the tax preference for employer-provided health insurance could be the basis of compromise with a similar plan advanced by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden that has bipartisan support. McCain might also seek a bipartisan carbon reduction bill.
Much depends, whoever wins, on whether Democrats elect enough senators to overcome filibusters. Even more may ride on the course of the economy and the depth of the recession, which could scotch either candidate's proposals.