On The Merits

In Philadelphia, on Oct. 2, 2018.(Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/epa-EFE)

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Democrats are understandably overjoyed at retaking the House of Representatives. Although Republicans retained the Senate, it was only due to an unusually favorable lineup of races that made a Democratic takeover virtually impossible. If Donald Trump runs for re-election, however, he promises to be an albatross around every Republican’s neck, given his dismal and declining approval ratings. The Democratic nominee will have the wind at his or her back even with the traditional benefits of incumbency Trump will enjoy.

But there are many factors that can easily be seen on the horizon that are certain to impact the 2020 race and affect both parties.

First, obviously, is the Mueller investigation. Even if the president himself escapes indictment, it is almost certain to ensnare many of those close to him, both now and during the 2016 campaign. I think the indictments themselves are perhaps less important than the evidence behind them, which may paint a picture of corruption that will burden the entire Republican Party as Watergate did.

Rushing into investigations could be disastrous

Second, Democrats now have control of the House’s investigative machinery. Republicans have used their control of congressional committees for several years to smear Democrats like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, giving official credence to crackpot conspiracy theories originating in the internet cesspool. They have also used their control to cover up and bottle up investigations of Trump and the widespread corruption in his Cabinet.

Democrats expect to begin their investigations of the Trump regime as soon as Congress reconvenes in January. But they should not expect too much, too soon, for several reasons. One is that the House's committee staff has been severely cut since the days of Watergate, and it will take time to hire experienced investigators and let them do their job. Just look at how long special counsel Robert Mueller has taken.

Rushing into hearings and issuing subpoenas without adequate preparation could be disastrous for Democrats. Remember how the Ollie North hearings backfired in 1987? Good hearings must be based on thorough research in advance — ideally you don’t want members asking any questions they don’t already know the answers to. That means taking all the time necessary for a thorough investigation by competent professionals first.

More: Democrats should drop 'subpoena cannon' talk about Trump, learn from Republican mistakes

Ready for big drama over spending and debt? Next two years will be brutal.

New Democratic House of Representatives will soon learn the limits of its power

Additionally, Democrats should not be sanguine about their newly acquired subpoena power. Trump can and probably will assert “executive privilege” to withhold documents and prevent administration officials from testifying. The Department of Justice will undoubtedly fight many subpoenas in court, and newly confirmed Republican judges may rule favorably for Trump. Even if such efforts fail, they will eat up a lot of time. Therefore, it will probably take many months at least before House investigations bear political fruit.

Third, it is beginning to look almost certain that there will be a recession before 2020. Whatever stimulus there was in the tax cut is already wearing off, and there wasn’t much to begin with. The expansion is long past its sell date, by historical standards. It began in June 2009 and has lasted 113 months, making it the second longest expansion in history. While expansions don’t necessarily die of old age, there is no reason to believe that the business cycle has been repealed.

GOP will hamstring Dems with bad economy

The next recession could be a particularly bad one, too, because Republicans will be loath to take even the modest countercyclical measures that President George W. Bush supported in 2007 and 2008. Especially if it looks likely that a Democrat will win in 2020, Republicans might intentionally sabotage the economy so that they can blame the downturn on Democrats, just as they blamed the last one on President Barack Obama, even though it began in December 2007, according to the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research.

Nor can the economy expect much help from the Federal Reserve. Interest rates are still low by historical standards, so there is little potential stimulus available from cutting them. And Trump has foolishly appointed several inflation hawks to the Federal Reserve Board who will resist monetary expansion of the sort that mitigated the last recession.

Fourth, Democrats will be hamstrung by the budget deficit Republicans have bequeathed to them, courtesy of a tax cut that will drain $1.9 trillion in revenue while simultaneously jacking up interest on the debt. It’s a sure thing that Republicans will gin up another budget crisis the minute Democrats have some power. Trump’s veto pen and Senate control mean that taxes cannot be raised. Therefore, Democrats will be forced into a budgetary corner where cutting Social Security and Medicare will appear to be the only options available.

It’s very likely that even if Democrats are successful at the polls in 2020, they could inherit an economic situation so dire it will be impossible to turn around before 2022, when Republicans can start to pick up the pieces again as they did in 2010.

I’m not sure there is a way out of this trap, but knowing it is there is the first step toward heading it off.

Bruce Bartlett worked on Capitol Hill, at the Treasury Department and the White House for many years. His latest book is "The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks." Follow him on Twitter: @BruceBartlett

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Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/11/21/2020-election-donald-trump-russia-house-investigation-recession-deficit-column/2054029002/

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