In the past week, two House Republicans provided a preview of what life might be like for President Barack Obama if their party wins control in November's mid-term congressional elections.
One is Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who attracted enormous publicity by apologizing to BP for an alleged White House "shakedown" in agreeing to a $20 billion compensation fund for oil spill victims. Though GOP leaders forced a retraction, it's clear other House Republicans share Barton's view.
GOP term limits and reportedly troubled relations with Republican leader John Boehner may keep Barton from chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee in a GOP House. But Democrats quickly noted that most congressional Republicans have a similar pro-business, anti-government philosophy, foreshadowing a return to the partisan gridlock of the Bush years.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California is the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. According to Politico, he plans to hire an army of investigators to investigate the Obama administration, just as predecessors from both parties used that panel to make life difficult for political opponents.
In a gridlocked world, such probes often become a major activity of an opposition Congress when the president's veto authority blocks its ability to pass legislation.
That would be especially likely if the Republicans win either or both houses in November, since they would hope to damage Obama politically and cripple his anticipated 2012 re-election bid.
In recent months, Issa has denounced the White House role in seeking to dissuade Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., from what proved to be a successful Senate primary challenge against Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter.
After the White House confirmed that former President Bill Clinton, acting at chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's behest, sounded out Sestak about serving on a high-level advisory panel if he stayed in the House, Issa demanded an independent investigation.
He lacks power to compel one, something that would change if Republicans won the House and he became the panel's chairman.
"That would make all the difference in the world," Politico reported Issa telling a recent meeting of Pennsylvania Republicans.
"I won't use it to have corporate America live in fear that we're going to subpoena everything," he said. "I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing."
Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., played a similar role as the panel's chair during Clinton's second term, as did Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in pressing the Bush administration in 2007 and 2008. Though many probes were political wild goose chases, others focused on legitimate questions of governmental wrongdoing, such as the still-pending matter of whether politics inspired Bush's firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
Barton's retracted apology was accompanied by sharp criticism from top GOP leaders, who said BP should be making apologies, not receiving them.
But Democrats charged that his comment resembled those of other Republicans, notably the statement a day earlier from an organization of conservative House Republicans.
In that statement, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, accused the administration of "exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics" in compelling BP's creation of the $20 billion fund, though he also said BP "should be held fully responsibility for its complicity in the oil tragedy in the gulf."
The Barton-Price mentality reflects the pro-business, anti-government attitude of House Republicans, Emanuel noted Sunday on ABC's "This Week": "What Joe Barton did is remind the American people, in case they've forgotten, (that) this is how the Republicans would govern."
Obama's chief of staff had a point. A GOP-run House would be 180 degrees different philosophically from the current Democratic majority -- and the White House -- ensuring sharp clashes on domestic issues.
When Republicans regained congressional control in 1994, two years after Clinton's election, they initially challenged the Democratic administration on many issues. When that failed, they reached accommodations on welfare reform and the budget.
Such compromises seem unlikely if the GOP succeeds this November. That may only change if, as in 1996, negativism fails to help Republicans regain the White House.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via e-mail at: email@example.com.