I will leave aside the temptation to suggest that Waldman is effectively proposing that Obama become a “hostage taker” and an “obstructionist,” and I’ll say this instead: Yes, Republicans will not be able to significantly (dare I say “fundamentally”) transform the country between now and 2016; yes, they will absolutely have their work cut out two years after the next election; yes, to the extent that this matters, they are not “united” across House and Senate. And despite this, their stewardship of the Senate could be extremely profitable.
For a start, a Republican-led upper house would kill the president’s appointment power for the remainder of his tenure, subjecting every single major personnel decision to GOP acquiescence. Personnel being policy, this is no small deal. Second, the days of Obama’s going in front of the country and complaining that a “small group of legislators” were holding up his agenda would be gone — forever. In the new environment, Obama would be the one out on a limb: during budget negotiations, when setting the legislative agenda, and when discussing Obamacare, the president would be the only center of power representing the progressive point of view. This matters. The shutdown was always folly, and I warned against it from the start. But were it not for Harry Reid, it would have gone rather differently I suspect. It really is a different thing to play the “we are being held up by one half of one house” game than it is to play the “I am at war with the entire Congress” game during negotiations — especially if Republicans buck the trend and, shock horror!, pass a budget. Obama knows this.