Obama has given the Republicans all the room in the world to maneuver in, but the Republicans, egged on by Rush Limbaugh, who is tucked safely away in the rear, keep making these frontal assaults. It's simply bizarre. I'm tempted to say Limbaugh is ballast on the sinking Titanic. Except...
I've been looking at the Republicans and it seems to me they are playing what in backgammon would be called a back game. They can't win in a straight up race, so they are obstructing like hell and hoping disaster strikes their opponent. Except in this case, if disaster strikes their opponent, it strikes the country as well. If memory serves, you usually have about a 30% shot at winning a well-played back game, but when you lose, you usually lose big. For that reason, back games are seldom played these days, but then Rush Limbaugh probably doesn't play backgammon, and if he does, he certainly doesn't play it well.
What would be the cost of a big loss for the Republicans? A couple of more Senate seats, giving the Dems a nearly Blue Dog-proof majority. I don't think that's a huge deal, given Obama's ... "caution," which is one of the reasons the Republicans are being so reckless. I think a more interesting question is what does a big loss look like from the Republican perspective? I'm thinking of the 1982-1984 period as a comparison. At the time of the 1984 election, the unemployment rate was at 7.2% and falling, from a high of 10.8% in 1982. Reagan, of course, won in a landslide that year, with his "Morning in America" campaign. However, he lost two seats in the Senate, while picking up 16 seats in the House -- percentage wise about a wash, but the Senate loss hurt, while the House gain did nothing much. In other words, despite his landslide win, Reagan's ability to actually move legislation was diminished after the 1984 elections.
The other key to all this is the 1982 election, when the unemployment rate was at a post-Depression high, again, 10.8%. The Senate was a wash, with no gain to either side, leaving the Republicans with an eight seat advantage, while the House saw the Democrats -- the out of power party -- pick up 27 seats (which were essentially meaningless, since they started with control of the House already). Obama has already shown he has trouble functioning with a 17 seat Senate edge; he can't afford a single lost seat there in 2010. Even granting that the country is a very different place now compared to 1984, and that past performance isn't a guarantee of future performance, the evidence that exists says that Obama has a pretty narrow window to squeeze legislation through. He's got to do it now, before the vagaries of 2010 have a chance to take his advantage away.