Now that the tide isn’t advancing…

NOW THAT THE TIDE ISN’T ADVANCING…. When President Obama was inaugurated a year ago, there were 58 Senate Dems and 257 House Dems — the largest majorities in decades, but not filibuster-proof. Few observers expected at the time that legislative gridlock was impossible to avoid. It’s not as if folks were running around saying, “President Obama can’t expect get anything done with ‘only’ 58 Democrats in the Senate.”

There had to be some kind of plan in mind. In an interesting WaPo piece yesterday, we get a sense of what that plan looked like. The White House apparently intended to move its agenda through Congress on an “advancing tide” theory.

Democrats would start with bills that targeted relatively narrow problems, such as expanding health care for low-income children, reforming Pentagon contracting practices and curbing abuses by credit-card companies. Republicans would see the victories stack up and would want to take credit alongside a popular president. As momentum built, larger bipartisan coalitions would form to tackle more ambitious initiatives.

The president stacked his administration with Capitol Hill veterans to help get the job done. Vice President Biden had served in the Senate since 1972. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had been a rising star in the House. Senior advisers Pete Rouse and Jim Messina, budget director Peter Orszag and legislative affairs director Phil Schiliro had close ties to key lawmakers.

By the end of June, Congress had sent 10 major bills to Obama, including tougher tobacco regulations, a new public service initiative, and recession-related efforts to provide mortgage relief and curb predatory banking practices.

But Republican votes never materialized.

Well, no, they didn’t. The White House must have hoped otherwise, but Republican lawmakers decided early on to pursue a scorched-earth strategy — no compromise, no constructive role, no mercy. It was a calculated gamble — if the Democrats’ agenda proved successful, the GOP wouldn’t benefit. The congressional minority felt compelled, then, to do whatever it could to undermine public policy, stoke the partisan fires, and be more obstructionist than any minority in American history.

The “advancing tide” theory sounded reasonable enough — I’m not sure what the alternative would have been — but in the face of unrelenting partisan obstinacy, generating momentum isn’t a credible option.

So, 2010 starts the way 2009 began, at least insofar as there’s a Democratic president with a long to-do list, dealing with large Democratic majorities in both chambers, but not “supermajorities.” The difference is, the tide appears to be receding, not advancing.

Was there a back-up plan?