Biggest Threats to Obama's Agenda Don't Come From Congress

Washington is consumed this week with the arrival of the new Congress and speculation about what the Republican House, the still-Democratic Senate and the president will do.

Two of the biggest issues figure to be health care reform and the efforts to stop it and the bulging federal deficit and the efforts to stop that. But the greatest impact in these areas may well come from neither Congress nor the White House.

Obamacare will almost certainly survive Republican efforts to undo it, since President Obama would veto any repeal and his party has the votes to sustain that. The court challenges to Obamacare are a different matter.

One federal judge has already ruled the mandate on all citizens to purchase health care unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court were ultimately to agree, the whole financing scheme for Obamacare would collapse and with it, the extension of health insurance to tens of millions of uninsured. Obamacare as we know it would be finished.

As for the deficit, an up-tick in economic growth would provide a surge of tax receipts that would immediately cut the annual deficit, perhaps sharply. That happened in the latter years of the Clinton administration when the treasury actually ran a surplus and in the middle years of the Bush administration when, despite two wars and heavy domestic spending, the deficit declined.

Neither of the above scenarios may come to pass, but they illustrate why the big events in politics often occur beyond the halls of Congress and beyond the White House.