Bill Clinton games out the lame-duck session of Congress

By Jonathan Miller

September 24, 2012

Former President Bill Clinton predicted that an Obama victory in November would be an “action-forcing” event that would prompt both parties to sit down and hash out their differences on the budget, the debt and taxes and would be good news for Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner.

“I expect the president to win and I think if he does, after this happens, then you will see the logjam beginning to break" in Congress, Clinton said on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. "I think it will strengthen the hand of, for example, Speaker Boehner, who would make an agreement if the most right wing of his caucus would let him.”

Clinton also had thoughts on Romney's "47 percent" comments, on U.S. foreign policy and on his wife's chances of running for president in 2016, in a pair of wide-ranging interviews on CNN and CBS on Sunday.

In both, Clinton addressed Congress and the pending lame-duck session. "I think you will see the gravitational forces on American politics pushing us toward an agreement on the budget and a number of other things," he said on CNN. On CBS’s Face the Nation, Clinton voiced similar thoughts, saying, “Something has to change so that both parties see they have more to gain from doing than not doing.”

He said that “the calculus of the Congress will change” due to Obama’s not having to run again. “They’ll be facing this fiscal cliff," he said. “It is doing exactly what it was intended to do: it will force them to concentrate and I believe there will be a lame-duck session of Congress in which they will either reach the beginnings of a budget deal or more likely agree to some sort of period of time to avoid the fiscal cliff and make the budget deal then. I think as soon as this election’s over the incentives for gridlock will go way down and the incentives for action will go way up.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did not seem to share Clinton's optimism. “Lame duck sessions don’t do very well,” McCain said on Bloomberg's Capitol Gains. “They’re usually disasters.”

Clinton offered some insight on Mitt Romney's infamous "47 percent" comments. "I know a lot of higher-income people," he said on CBS, "a lot of whom help me do my work and they’re supporting Governor Romney. And a lot of people say things like that." He noted that Romney failed to point out that many of these same people who don’t pay federal income tax pay Social Security, state income taxes and sales tax.

On Iran, Clinton, noting that his wife is the U.S. Secretary of State, said that he needed to be "very careful" about what he said. "I think the president's desire to keep his public options open is the correct course at this time," he said on CNN. "I think when you say something in public, whatever it is, one or two things happen. When the people call you on what you said, you've either got do something about it and deal with perhaps unintended negative consequences, or you don't, and people think you're weaker. Better to have them wonder what you're going to do and communicate privately in more explicit terms."

Clinton also touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that he didn't think there would be “a better government” to deal with than the current Palestinian government as it relates to Israel. “I don't know when we're ever going to have a better Palestinian government to deal with than the one we have in the West Bank," he said on CNN. "The Hamas problem is Hamas's problem. But I think the United States should be involved.”

He also seemed to agree to a certain extent with Mitt Romney’s leaked comments this week that the United States role in the process was limited. “It is accurate that the United States cannot make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he said. “They have to do that. What we need to do is maximize the attractiveness of doing it and minimize the risks of doing it. We can do that.”

He added that he was optimistic on a resolution. "I believe that there'll be a new opportunity next year to reach an accommodation," he said.

Back on U.S. politics, Clinton was asked whether his wife, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, will run for president in 2016. 'I have no earthly idea," he said.

By Jonathan Miller

September 24, 2012