Aspen Ideas observers: Nov. election won’t ease political bickering |

Aspen Ideas observers: Nov. election won’t ease political bickering

ASPEN – If the presidential election was held today, President Obama would likely win by an extremely narrow margin, political insiders from both sides of the aisle said Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

But Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, and Melody Barnes, former domestic policy adviser to Obama, said lots of factors will jumble the campaign before voters go to the polls in November.

With that caveat, Weber said he sees Obama winning by less of a margin than he did four years ago. The House of Representatives will remain in Republican control, with the margin depending on how well Obama does or doesn’t do, he said. The battle for control of the Senate is too close to call, Weber said, noting that 23 seats currently held by Democrats are up for election compared with just 10 for Republicans.

Anyone looking for the 2012 vote to be a “clarifying election” will be disappointed, Weber said. He expects the outcome to move the country “more toward a government that’s even more divided than the last one.”

Barnes said the power of incumbency has worked well for presidents over the years, with a few exceptions. She expects Obama to capitalize from his incumbency. The outcome of this race depends on a few key states, she said. Colorado is often on that short list of states that will determine the outcome of the presidential race.

Barnes said both sides need to get their base to the polls. Obama will target women and younger voters, she said.

Under the guidance of CBS news veteran Bob Schieffer, Barnes and Weber explored a handful of topics likely to shape the presidential race in a session called, “America’s Domestic Outlook.”

Weber said he doubts either party will highlight the president’s health care plan “front and center” during the campaign despite the rhetoric since the Supreme Court upheld the law Wednesday. The House Republican leadership has announced there will be a vote on a proposal to repeal the health care law the week of July 9. That effort, which is only symbolic because of Democratic control of the Senate and White House, will just rally the bases on both sides of the debate, she said.

Schieffer noted that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to veto Obama’s health care initiative if he wins election in November. “Can he do that?” Schieffer asked his guests.

Barnes said Romney cannot. Even if Republicans take control of the senate, they won’t have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, she said.

Weber said Senate Republicans could employ some complicated rules to overturn portions of the health care regulations but not the guts of it – a mandate that everyone must have health care coverage.

When Republicans talk about repealing Obama’s regulations, that is “political shorthand for saying, ‘We don’t like this law,'” Weber said.

He noted that Romney could make good on his repeal promise by starting the process of repeal, but achieving the goal would be “very, very difficult.”

Schieffer noted that Congress seems more dysfunctional than ever. Not one piece of major legislation was passed this year, he said.

Weber noted that Congress has taken huge actions in prior years – such as passage of the health care bill and the decision to go to war in Iraq. Both moves were controversial and fueled political bickering. That adds to the feel of dissatisfaction. If Congress is able to reach bipartisan agreement on the budget, it would help the economy and boost the public’s perception of it, he said.

Barnes said governing in Washington, D.C. has become so polarized that it is difficult to imagine Congress breaking out of the dysfunction. More elected officials used to be willing to seek compromises to reach solutions that were best for the country. Now bipartisan cooperation is rare, she said.

Schieffer said he doesn’t know how to solve the dysfunction of Congress, but he knows the cause of the problem. It costs so much money to run for office that candidates are beholden to special interests that help them win election.

“Once he gets to Washington, his positions are set in stone. He cannot change,” Schieffer said.

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