Sept. 21, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

For Obama and Capitol Hill, the Future Starts Today

The next six months will be a crucial time for the White House and for both political parties.

While the nation’s economic problems have not been resolved, there is now a general sense among many, certainly in the public at large, that things have stabilized.

No, we aren’t entering a period of economic boom, but the worst, most people believe, is behind us, and the nation’s political leaders can now turn their attention toward health care, climate change, energy and other policy areas. There has been a dramatic improvement in the “right direction/wrong track” poll question, and more and more Americans say they think the economy is improving.

Though the optimism is tempered, it creates certain expectations. The question is whether events over the next six months will prove that optimism well-founded, and whether Democrats will be as strong and well-positioned at the end of the year as they seem to be at the year’s midpoint.

Growing unemployment, or any new signs of economic weakness, certainly could damage the president and his party.

For all of the frenzy of activity in the nation’s capital over the past six months, most of it has been of the emergency variety. Prevent a financial collapse of U.S. banks. Keep the doors open at General Motors. Take steps to prevent a full-fledged economic meltdown.

The result is that most of the big-ticket policy items are still far from being enacted.

While the House of Representatives passed a climate bill immediately before Members left for the July Fourth holiday break, the narrow 219-212 majority ought to be unsettling to supporters of the measure. Senate leaders have already indicated that the House bill is only a starting point for Senate efforts, an ominous sign given the maneuvering and arm-twisting needed to pass the bill in the House.

If the outlook for climate legislation is uncertain, the prospect of Congress producing a broadly acceptable health care reform bill that will fundamentally alter the nation’s health care system is even cloudier.

That’s not to say Congress won’t pass something in both areas, only that it’s still quite possible the president and Democratic Congressional leaders may ultimately have to accept half a loaf if they want something at all.

Months of bickering within a divided Democratic majority wouldn’t be good for the president’s party, of course.

November will also bring two gubernatorial elections, in Virginia and in New Jersey, as well as legislative elections.

While Republicans have been battered over the past six months — with personal scandals, failures and controversies dogging some of the GOP’s most high-profile figures and party infighting doing nothing to convince voters that Republicans have a plan for themselves, let alone for the country — the two gubernatorial contests have a chance to inject a dose of optimism into the GOP.

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