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The struggling economy offers the most basic explanation for why voters heavily rewarded Republican candidates at the polls in the 2010 midterm elections, two years after a very different set of results.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are likely to push through a series of targeted spending cuts over the next two years, but with little or no effect on the national deficit or overall government performance. And the Obama administration will be constrained as it navigates the partisan divide as well as stepped-up congressional subpoena activity.
These were the main points of agreement that emerged during a lively, hour-long discussion [audio] about the 2010 midterm elections on Nov. 8 at NYU Wagner. The forum featured National Review deputy managing editor Kevin Williamson, veteran Democratic strategist Robert Shrum, and Paul Light, a noted critic of the federal service.
Rogan Kersh, associate dean and professor at Wagner, moderated the discussion and question and answer session. The analyses of the historic election and its potential ramifications in policy and politics brought out dozens of students.
"Actually we've had three extraordinary national elections in a row - 2006, 2008, and 2010," began Bob Shrum, who teaches at Wagner. "In each case, they were a rebellion against the status quo, and they were a rebellion against two very different status quo's."
The panelists sought to make sense of it.
The 2010 midterms, said Williamson, do not represent a national mandate for Republicans, as conservatives "haven't done anything to earn back the trust they frittered away over the course of eight years during the Bush Administration."
What is more, the editor said, "there's always a danger that they're going to do something dumb, and I think that they're right on the cusp of doing it" -- such as maintaining federal spending levels at thigh levels while cutting taxes. The combination would only make a dangerously troubled economy even shakier, he said
Still, a bad economy would hardly be bad news for Republicans come the 2012 presidential election.
"Barack Obama would love it if unemployment were at 7 percent in 2012, but I think we're looking ahead to 11 percent unemployment, or even higher," said Williamson. "We are in for some rougher times than even those we've experienced economically, and there's no easy way out of it."
No easy way indeed, Shrum agreed.
"There's going to be a lot of pressure from Tea Party Republicans to deliver on this promise of a 'smaller government' and to achieve some of these cuts," Shrum said. "They'll succeed in some places, but overall we're not going to get to this dream, in part because there's not much reality behind the dream." For when Republicans begin selecting programs to cut - be they aid for education, or aircraft safety - a public backlash is likely to arise.
"We're headed for a train wreck on all sorts of things because the newly elected Republicans simultaneously want to extend the tax cuts and cut the deficit," Shrum warned. "It's what Ronald Reagan said he was going to do in the early 1990's. If Reagan, who I think was a masterful president, couldn't pull that off, then I don't think we are going to see it done very well here."
Light, a professor at Wagner, cautioned against another new flurry of "micro-oversight" of the federal government. He called instead for aggressive oversight of troubled agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, and, moreover, an overarching plan to create a productive, accountable and effective national government, a true overhaul that could save taxpayers $1 trillion over 10 years.
"It takes a lot to do that, and it would take a Democratic Party that actually steps up to the plate. President Obama has had virtually no interest in big-ticket federal reform; Republicans continue to argue for pay freezes, hiring freeze and pay cuts, which is small potatoes," said Light.
One audience member asked whether New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg could become president in 2012. Shrum replied that an Independent Bloomberg candidacy could be viable, but only in a three-way race in which the main Republican nominee had a polarizing effect -- and if the economy was still suffering.
"His claim to fame is being a billionaire and telling you how much salt to put on your French fries. I don't suppose that's going to be something that's going to catapult him to the White House," he said.
Ingrid Gould Ellen, professor of urban planning and public policy at NYU Wagner, joined with leading government officials, stakeholders and researchers in a White House conference October 13, 2010, devoted to the "Next Generation" of federal policy on rental housing.
Professor Ellen, whose expertise on the issue on home foreclosures was tapped previously by the Obama Administration, participated in a panel on the rental housing market and current federal policies, along with Richard Green (University of Southern California, School of Policy, Planning and Development, and Marshall School of Business), and Raphael Bostic (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
The panels were established to discuss the next generation of housing policy needed to more effectively combat poverty, address social inequity issues, and create new incentives for wealth building in urban and rural America. Panels across the day also discussed the kinds of policy recommendations that could further community revitalization, sustainability, and fair housing goals if implemented.
And finally, discussions focused on the recommendations necessary to allow housing policy to better finance the new construction, preservation and /or sustainability of rental housing.
Keynote speakers included Melody Barnes, director, White House Domestic Policy Council, and Larry Summers, director, White House National Economic Council. Additional remarks were delivered by such heavy hitters as Shaun Donovan, secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development; and Neal Wolin, deputy secretary, U.S. Treasury.
Professor Ellen is co-director of the Furman Center on Real Estate and Urban Policy, a research center jointly created by NYU Wagner and NYU School of Law. She is co-editor most recently of the book "How to House the Homeless" (Russell Sage Foundation, 2010).