Stalemate 2014: The year ahead

At this time next year the 114th Congress will be sworn in and the least productive Congress of all time will be a memory. At the start of this year, President Obama’s support is at its lowest point ever. But so is Congress’s. Speaker John Boehner is widely viewed as a beleaguered, inept stooge held hostage by the extreme members he is meant to rule over. Both men stand at a kind of legacy crossroads in 2014. And the election held eleven months from now may determine the final path both of their careers will take.

2013 was easily the worst year of the Obama presidency. Domestic initiatives like immigration and gun control failed miserably. The NSA spying scandal is the only Obama scandal so far to not be based around conspiracy theories. And still…what was the scandal? A spy agency went and spied on people in the name of national security. Ermahgerd! The troubled rollout of made the country feel that the entire law itself was a disaster (it’s not). The website’s issues and the running battles with Congress dragged Obama’s approval numbers down to their -40% level. Then at his lowest point, Obama took the funeral selfie to end all funeral selfies. So yeah. Obama had a pretty rough year.

But it could have been worse. He could be ending torture and wresting control of his presidency back from his deranged Vice President. He could be banging interns and be getting impeached for lying about it. He could be giving up the presidency like LBJ or claiming to not be a crook like Nixon. Obama made health insurance a reality for millions of people last year, disarmed a war criminal of some of the world’s most dangerous weapons and started a dialogue with Iran for the first time in thirty years. A buggy website is hardly a Nixon-level disaster, but that’s how we define a bad year for this president. Whatever.

Speaker Boehner is Obama’s longest running ideological opponent. From the first debt ceiling debacle of 2011, the fiscal cliff negotiations at the end of 2012, the government shutdown, and the latest two year budget deal, Boehner has continuously been made a fool of by his own caucus. With every botched negotiation and last minute deal Boehner has consistently sought to cut some kind of Grand Bargain and every time has been rebuffed by the insane wackobirds who really run the House. He could have broken the Hastert Rule and passed comprehensive immigration reform, but he has decided to pass it in smaller pieces. The extreme elements in his party have kept him from doing big things. And in the case of the shutdown, his own Senate colleague, Ted Cruz, was actively and openly engaged in usurping his authority. He’s third in line to the presidency and he has the most thankless job in Washington.

Weirdly, every time he comes out of a negotiation looking like a powerless ass, he has somehow further solidified his position with the members who would overthrow him. It’s the strange contradiction of Republican leadership. The worse their leaders are at actual governance, the more the base loves them. It’s really sick.

After the poll beatdown they experienced during the shutdown battle, Republicans were chastened and not ready for another crippling budget fight. As soon as Paul Ryan and Patty Murray cut a two year budget deal (the first of the Obama presidency) conservative groups jumped all over it. This was finally too much for the Speaker to bear, and after years of being slapped around and called Susan, Boehner finally lost it (and in gif-worthy fashion). It was a hell of a thing to see the bedeviled Speaker finally drop the mic on some of the groups who had tortured him. The budget deal cleared the deck and set the stage for what could be the final battle of the Obama vs Boehner War.

The 2014 midterm election is the stage upon which that fight will play out. With both sides wounded and weary, and both thinking they’re right as to how to run on the issue of health care, get ready for a year of unending political posturing. Obama will beat the drums for a minimum wage increase and a piecemeal immigration reform approach while Boehner and McConnell will run on the defects of health care reform. Both sides will move further into 2014, snarling with their horns locked as they push back and forth in the dirt. Midterm elections are what you get when the rest of the country isn’t looking; they are a first class shitshow of mediocre proportions. Obama will use his State of the Union to push for a wage increase, and another debt ceiling fight will come early in the year, right in the middle of the primaries. So prepare for battle, motherfuckers.

While midterm electorates are older, whiter, Obama will hope for a split decision that keeps things as they are, with the Senate in Democratic control and the House in Republican hands (or with a few more Dems). It’s nearly impossible for the Dems to win the House back. The wave in 2010 has allowed Republican redistricting to keep them in power until the next census or a Republican president rubs the country the wrong way and another wave occurs. As cool as it would be to see Obama’s last two years in office resemble his first two, it simply won’t happen, unless the Republicans pull some epic disaster akin to the 2013 shutdown. President Obama’s numbers are already on the upswing, which could make 2014 more competitive. So one can hope…

But if the Republicans can take the Senate, it will further marginalize the president and he will have to look to foreign policy as his second term winds down. There is potential for a deal with Iran on the issue of their nuclear enrichment and the possibility of some kind of Israeli/Palestinian deal. But both are long shots. And the next presidential election always starts as soon as midterms are over. This will further isolate Obama. Every presidential election with an open seat is in many ways about the country’s mood toward the outgoing president. Just look at 2000 and 2008.

President Obama recently stated that he wishes that Washington was as easy to run as it is in “House of Cards“. And you can bet your ass Boehner feels the same way. John Boehner is known as the Dean Martin of the House. And Obama is obviously one of the coolest humans in DC, so it speaks to the town’s savage and toxic nature that the two most chilled out and powerful men in the country can’t come to a greater understanding.

There are rumors that Boehner will give up the speakership at the end of 2014. He denies it now, of course, but his outburst after the latest budget deal was a pretty good indicator as to which way he’s leaning. It would be nice for him to leave after a win. One last vindication after a couple terms of hell.

Either way, by the end of the year Obama and Boehner will have gone through the last electoral fight of their time together, and both may be lame ducks afterward. Though it may not seem like it yet, 2014 promises to be an exciting political year. Midterm candidates can get weird. Like, really weird. And the Supreme Court is about to rule on some important ish. Though the current state of politics is pretty bleak, there is reason to hope. Because, come on, it couldn’t get much more boring than 2013.