A House (and Senate) divided: Would Romney be more likely to get legislative ball rolling?
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. / EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama recently conceded that his 2008 vow to "get us out of his polarizing debate... and actually get things done" may have been a bit "naive" considering the current level of gridlock caging Congress. But that hasn't stopped Mitt Romney from resurrecting the promise as his own this cycle - after all, the GOP nominee said during Tuesday's debate: He's done it before, he'll do it again.
"What we have right now in Washington is a place that's gridlocked," Romney said during the second presidential debate at Hoftra University in Hempstead, N.Y. "We haven't had the leadership in Washington to work on a bipartisan basis. ...I was able to do that in my state, and bring these two together."
According to at least some experts, he may be right. Romney would face a rude awakening if he took on the office of the presidency with the mindset of a Massachusetts governor, University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato believes, but former longtime Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren argued the circumstances that would likely accompany a Romney victory in November would be more prone to fuel a workable Congress than would an Obama second term.
"I think Romney was being a little coy" with the suggestion that his leadership would be enough to dissolve the Hill's current partisan firewalls, said Lofgren, who, out of frustration at the "do-nothing" status of Congress, last year famously left his job as a senior analyst on the House and Senate Budget Committees after 28 years on Capitol Hill and authored, "The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted." On the stump, Romney time and time again has assured he'll do "everything in my power" to "reach across the aisle and find good Democrats in the House and the Senate that care deeply about America, just as I do."
The argument that a Romney first term would stand a better chance than an Obama second term at jumpstarting Congress has everything to do with presumed logistics, Lofgren explained: "If for whatever reason momentum changes to the point that Romney gets elected, most likely he's going to have retained a Republican House, and it's significantly more likely under those circumstances that he'll have picked up a Republican Senate, too." Furthermore, he continued, "The dynamics of a first-term president always tend to be more activist. With second-term presidents, there's a lot of legacy sniffing."
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It's a difficult thing to predict, Sabato cautioned, particularly given the fluidity of House and Senate races. "Right now both candidates are whistling past the graveyard," he said. Romney's argument - seized on by his supporters, including Democrat-turned-Republican former Rep. Artur Davis - that working with Democrats in Massachusetts has prepared him to do the same as president - "We've heard that for years from presidents. 'Oh, as governor of Arkansas...' and 'When I was governor of Texas...' It's irrelevant. It's always under completely different circumstances, and certainly not as polarized.
"But you look at Obama," Sabato continued. "He and Republicans in Congress have just not been able to work together. We've had two empty years legislatively, and I don't see that changing just because he gets 51, 52 percent of the vote, which is all we're talking about."
Should the president be reelected and if control of the House and Senate remain the same, the last four years will have been a harbinger of the next, both experts agreed.
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