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Judy’s Notebook: Thanksgiving Reflections on Policy Debates to Come

With attention turning to family and loved ones this Thanksgiving Eve, I’ll take just a moment to tie up a few loose ends from the election that sometimes seemed it would never end. They may inform the battle lines in Washington debates that loom, especially over the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

  1. As of last count, President Obama’s margin of victory was growing, with votes still coming in from California and other Democratic-leaning states. Gov. Romney has 47.5 percent of the vote so far, compared to 50.7 percent for the president — a better than 3 percent margin, and a sting to the Republican Party, which has now lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections and has not been able to capture above 300 electoral votes in any presidential contest since 1988.

  2. When it comes to who has more political leverage, it’s more complicated than it looks. Yes, the president has won a decisive victory with more than 64 million votes to Romney’s 60 million. (The counting continues.) And yes, the president won more votes than did all the Republican members of the House of Representatives combined: their total was 57.1 million. In fact, even Democratic House members out-drew their Republican counterparts with a combined 57.3 million votes, despite the fact Democrats will have 201 seats in the new Congress to the GOP’s 234. (Many may not realize Democrats managed to win 39 of the 68 most competitive House races in the country.)

  3. But as the Rothenberg Political Report’s Nathan Gonzales told me on Tuesday’s NewsHour, the 29 Republicans who prevailed in the rest of those highly competitive House races, who had to raise a lot of money and fight for their political survival, did so mostly by defeating Democrats who attacked the proposed cutbacks in Medicare and Social Security in GOP Representative — and former vice presidential nominee — Paul Ryan’s high-profile budget plan. Gonzales argued that these Republicans who “weathered those attacks… and came out on top” are not going to be inclined to back down when fiscal cliff negotiations get tough. He pointed out, “They’re saying ‘why should we compromise when you attacked us on the Paul Ryan budget and we’re still standing? Voters voted for us.'”

  4. Despite the fact votes are still being counted in this year’s election, plans are already being laid for 2014 and beyond. Gonzales and others say that the tea party and other organized conservative groups will remind any Republicans who consider straying from the no-tax orthodoxy that they may face a challenger from their own party in the next race — now less than two years away. As soon as proposals surface that call for tax increases in any form, these groups will pressure members not to give in, and they won’t be subtle about it.

  5. In other words, if you thought that elections have consequences, you’re right. Anyone who won, and won big, has political muscle on his or her side. President Obama, with no re-election race in front of him, is free to aim for a sweeping fiscal deal. But House members with fresh memories of their own (or their colleagues’) political victories, will have one eye fixed on the calendar, knowing in just 23 months and two weeks, they face the voters again.

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