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Eight political stories to follow in 2012

Adam Newman | Thursday, January 19, 2012

For good and bad, American politics may be “the greatest show” on Earth, and 2012 will most likely be a year to help prove why. Below are eight political stories to follow in 2012.

8. Can the Democrats finally raise taxes on the rich?

At the end of 2012, the Bush Tax Cuts will expire, effectively raising taxes on all Americans. Democrats and Republicans agree that the tax provisions for the bottom 98% of income earners should be extended, but disagree over the tax breaks for the top 2% of income earners. If Congress and the President cannot agree to an extension, then everyone’s taxes will go up Jan. 1, 2013.

7. Will Mitt Romney ever be loved?

It looks like Mitt Romney will be the Republican’s nominee for president, but can Republicans embrace him? Most of the Republican establishment supports Romney, but the real question is whether “the rank and file” will support him.

6. Who will be the Republican nominee for VP?

Perhaps an even more interesting question is who will be Romney’s running mate. This may be Romney’s only chance to win the rank and file’s support before the election, so he will probably pick someone popular within the party, like Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey or Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. But given both lack experience (and in Christie’s case, saying he is not ready to be president), it is more likely Romney will pick Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s biggest star and best debater.

5. Will John Boehner become unemployed?

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner may say that he has control of the House Republicans, but few believe him. Boehner is an old school Republican politician who is sensible, a stark contrast to the Tea Party freshman, a group that makes up roughly one-third of his caucus. It has been reported that Boehner’s party has taken different positions than him on the debt ceiling and spending, amongst other issues. Boehner’s deputy, Eric Cantor, is both ambitious and better connected to the Tea Party. Don’t be surprised if Boehner is ousted in an insurrection and replaced with Cantor as the new session of Congress approaches in 2013.

4. Can the Republicans take the Senate?

The Democrats currently hold the Senate with 54 members, but that could evaporate in the 2012 election. The Democrats face two ugly trends in their pursuit to maintain the Senate: a) The bad economy will make the re-election efforts of Democratic Senators more difficult, and b) The anti-incumbent mood that has swept the country will make the re-election of incumbent Senators much more difficult. Given that Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats out of 33 seats up for grabs in the 2012 election, it will be very difficult for Democrats to maintain control of the Senate.

3. How will the Supreme Court rule on health care reform?

The controversial individual mandate, which starting in 2014 mandates Americans to either acquire insurance or pay a fine, is a key part of the 2010 health care overhaul and whose constitutionality will be decided by the Supreme Court. The mandate is a key part of the law because the law also prevents insurance companies from denying insurance to people with a pre-existing condition. Without a mandate for people to acquire insurance, older and sicker people will sign up for the new insurance exchanges, while younger and healthier people will wait to buy insurance until they become sick, making implementation of the coverage provisions impossible.

2. What will be the unemployment rate in November 2012?

No number may be more relevant to the re-election prospects of President Obama than the percentage of Americans unemployed. As of January 2011, it was at 8.5 percent. With economic growth projected to be less than three percent for the next three quarters, it is unlikely that unemployment will drop much. Even if unemployment drops to eight percent, it will be very difficult for Obama to win, as incumbents George H.W. Bush (7.4 percent), Jimmy Carter (7.5 percent), and Gerald Ford (7.8 percent) all lost their elections.

1. Can President Obama win re-election?

And of course, the most important political question of 2012: Can President Obama, someone once seen as a “transformational president”, win re-election? The election will certainly be a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy. Given the state of the economy, Obama will have a very hard time making a case for another four-year term. Fortunately for Obama, Republicans may not be smart enough to realize this and could make the election a referendum on the size and role of government — areas that are much easier for Obama to campaign on. Either way, the man who pledged to fix Washington in 2008 will run against it in 2012, similar to how Harry Truman ran against a “Do Nothing Congress” in 1948.

Adam Newman is a junior finance major. He can be reached at anewman3@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.