Whatever else the week between Christmas and New Year’s is, it’s a godsend for columnists who are short on serious ideas, because we get to do things like write predictions columns. Thank you, Pope Gregory. But I promise you a few surprises, and a couple made of concrete so that you can hold me to them and wave them in my face a few months hence.
1. Situation: Budget Deadline. Prediction: Deal reached after 9 p.m. on January 14.
The year will start bleakly—really going out on a limb there, eh?—as January 15 arrives. Remember, the budget deal reached in December did not appropriate any specific dollars toward any specific program. It just raised the ceiling on the amounts that may be appropriated.
So between now and January 15, congressional appropriators have to set those levels. One has to assume that the GOP establishment’s “no more stupid shutdowns” rule will still have force. But there will be enough Tea Party members willing to create enough mischief to make things suspenseful again. I somehow suspect that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), notably sidelined during the December negotiations, won’t be quite so cooperative this time around.
I’d still say there won’t be a shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have that much control over their caucuses. But it’s just the rhythm of these things that the radicals have to flex a little muscle this time. I predict a really, really last-minute deal, in which the radicals won’t get anything but will have reminded the establishment that they’re not lying down.
2. Situation: Debt Limit. Prediction: Obama Will Go Big, Tempt Impeachment Charges.
The Republicans will announce some set of ridiculous debt-limit increase demands. Obama will say, “I’m not negotiating.” He has said that every since the first debt fiasco back in 2009, but behind the scenes, the administration has talked.
This time I think it’ll be different. I sense Obama has just reached the end of his rope on this one. That face of his, which so rarely betrays an emotion, contorts whenever the issue arises, into the shape of someone who’s just sucked a lemon. In addition, Congress’s role in the debt limit is at heart a question of constitutional law, and if this con-law president is going to take a stand over anything, it’s probably that. I don’t know exactly what Obama is going to do, but it could be dramatic—he even had his lawyers studying that platinum-coin nonsense last year. This is the issue on which he’ll invite an impeachment charge. I’d imagine he’d like to be the president who settled this one once and for all—assuming it’s settled in his direction, which I can’t predict, except to say I think efforts to impeach him over the issue would go nowhere and only help Obama.
3. Situation: March 31 Obamacare Sign-Up Deadline. Prediction: Success!
Did you notice that nearly 1 million people signed up for health-care coverage in December? That was to meet the deadline to have coverage by January 1. The final deadline for signing up for the federal or state exchanges is March 31. How many people are going to sign their freedom away between now and the first pitch of the baseball season?
I predict that at this point, another 3 million is a conservative estimate. I’ll go ahead and give you a number—by March 31, I say we’ll have 5.8 million sign-ups. That’s not 7 million, but it’s not bad. There’s nothing magic about 7 million, mind you—it’s not like the Hellmouth starts devouring Sunnydale on April 1 if 7 million isn’t hit. It’s just a target that was intended to suggest the likelihood of a decent balance of sick and healthy. I doubt 5.8 million would be all that much different.
My broader prediction, echoing what I’ve written previously, is that Obamacare is not going to be anywhere near the problem for Democrats next fall that most pundits and most polls now are foreseeing.
4. Situation: Iran. Prediction: A Deal, but Problems.
As you’ll recall, in November the United States and Iran agreed to an interim, six-month deal while they worked out the longer-term details over these next few months. There was a lot of speculation at the time about whether the long-term agreement could really be consummated.
I think it will, and it will be historic, but many years will pass before we’ll be able to see whether the agreement was on balance a good thing. In the short run, I think the effects won’t be so great. Iran will be strengthened in the region by virtue of the mere fact that it was able to bring the Great Satan to the table. And if Iran is strengthened, that means Bashar al-Assad will be strengthened, and Hezbollah will be strengthened. A deal will keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions monitored, but all its other ambitions will probably be helped.
5. Situation: Republican Primaries. Prediction: About a .333 Batting Average for the Tea Party.
Well, .333 is great in the big leagues, but I don’t think it’s so hot in politics. But depending on which incumbent Republicans the Tea Party insurgents manage to bring down, and of course depending on whether any of the upstart primary winners make it to the Senate, .333 can look either pretty good or really awful.
Matt Bevin is not going to beat McConnell in Kentucky. It is possible, though, that Pat Roberts could lose in Kansas, and it’s even sort of possible that Lindsey Graham could lose in South Carolina. Both of those states would elect the Republican provided his/her last name wasn’t Goebbels, which in both cases it’s not.
6. Situation: November By-Elections. Prediction: Status Quo Mostly, Except Kentucky.
I think the Democrats will hold the Senate and the Republicans will hold the House. I’d expect the margins to narrow a bit in both houses, but the fundamental political dynamic of Congress won’t change.
I do, however, think that Alison Lundergan Grimes will beat McConnell in Kentucky. People aren’t paying attention. McConnell’s approval rating in the state in a recent poll is the same as President Obama’s. Grimes is going to raise the needed money, and all she really has to do is keep reminding people that they’re tired of Mitch, which she’s been doing pretty well.
7. Situation: The Hillary Situation. Prediction: She’ll Announce After the Election.
Sometime around next Thanksgiving, Clinton will give a speech somewhere symbolically appropriate to suggest—not say, but suggest—that she will seek the Democratic nomination. Seneca Falls? No, too “shrill” and womanly. New York City? Too elitist. Washington? The same. I predict somewhere in the heart of Pennsylvania, some county where she mopped up Obama in 2008, to remind people of that little time when she was a working-class hero.
Chris Christie won’t do the same. Clinton has an interest in, and ability to, clear the field in a way that he can’t. So he’ll wait a while longer. But Clinton will be all the talk this time next year, which has never been a good thing for presidential candidates to be, but there’s always a first time.