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When elections used to have consequences

As conservative Republicans continue to demand concessions from President Barack Obama's health-care law as the price to end the government shutdown, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was asked a simple question on Sunday: Why not accomplish this instead by winning elections? 

Cruz's response to CNN's Candy Crowley

"We did have an election, and Republicans won a majority of the House of Representatives. And the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the principle responsibility for appropriations for spending."

What Cruz neglected to mention in his answer is that, under the Constitution, any appropriations legislation must pass both the GOP-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate and must be signed into law by the president. 

He also didn't mention that -- in that same election -- Obama convincingly won re-election to the White House, Democrats picked up two additional Senate seats and eight House seats, and they won the popular House vote by a 49 percent to 48 percent margin. 

In this modern era of politics -- which includes the incredibly close 2000 presidential race and another close contest in 2004 -- the 2012 election produced a clear-cut outcome. 

And as the saying goes, elections have consequences. It's how Democratic victories in the 1930s paved the way for Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, how Dem victories in the 1960s led to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, how Republican victories in the 1980s resulted in Ronald Reagan's tax cuts, how Democratic majorities in 2006 and 2008 led to Obama's health-care law, and how the GOP's midterm wins in 2010 extracted spending-cut concessions from Obama the following year. 

Yet what's extraordinary about this current political fight is that Republicans are seeking another round of concessions -- over the president's signature domestic achievement -- after losing the last election, which was viewed in part as a referendum on the health-care law. 

“It's as if Ted Cruz slept through the entire 2012 cycle," a senior Democratic aide tells First Read. "It's not like Obamacare, spending and debt weren't major issues in 2012. They were central -- and we won.”  

Nevertheless, Cruz and House Republicans maintain that Obama and the Democrats must negotiate over the health-care law to re-open the federal government. And House Speaker John Boehner says Democrats must negotiate to raise the debt ceiling. “The nation’s credit is at risk because of the administration’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation,” he told ABC News. “The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit. And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.” 

But other Republicans have said those efforts are a pipe dream. "The Democratic Senate is never going to pass, nor is President Obama ever going to sign, a bill that would repeal his signature accomplishment," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said on Saturday. 

Two ways Washington creates change

In the U.S. system of government -- with its checks and balances -- major legislative change comes in two forms. One, when one political party controls most, if not all, of the branches of government (see the New Deal, Great Society, Obama's health-care law). Two, when divided government reaches good-faith compromise (Social Security changes in the 1980s, welfare reform in the 1990s). 

But in the 15-plus years this reporter has covered Washington politics, such legislative compromise has never been dictated by the terms of the side that had lost the previous election. The losing side has certainly blocked the majority creating new laws (like George W. Bush's Social Security effort in 2005, Bill Clinton's second-term agenda, Obama's cap-and-trade legislation). However, it hasn't rolled back major laws, especially without controlling all the branches of government. 

The reason: Elections have consequences. Or at least they used to.