Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Obama and the Republicans

In his first national speech, Barack Obama condemned the bitter partisanship of Washington. While running for president he promised to change the culture of Washington.

He made good on that promise. He made the partisanship much worse. A case can be made that winning political points over the Republicans has become Obama's top priority and actually running the country is a distant second (if that).

Relations went downhill fast after Obama's first inauguration. He did make the gesture of inviting members of both parties to the White House to watch the Super Bowl but this did not go well. A better politician would have used the time to work the room. Football was more important to Obama than politics so he sat in the front seat and watched the game.

One of the first pieces of legislation was the stimulus bill. Republicans were completely shut out of writing it. They were not able to add a single amendment. As a result, they opposed it unanimously. While trying to lobby the Republicans, Obama seemed confused at their reaction. He is reported to have said something to the effect of, "We put in things that you are supposed to like."

With solid majorities in both houses, the mood in the White House was "We have the votes. F---- them!"

That changed in the mid-term elections when the Republicans took over the House and made gains in the Senate. Obama did not react well to the change. When negotiating for a debt ceiling increase, the Republicans demanded cuts in future spending. One of their proposals would have flattened the tax rates while removing deductions which would have resulted in higher revenue. The White House responded with a proposal for the most progressive tax rates in history - something the Republicans would never consider.

This led the White House to propose the Sequester. The idea was that all discretionary spending would be cut but defense would have disproportionate cuts. The White House hoped that pro-defense Republicans would eventually agree to almost anything rather than see defense cuts. The Sequester was supposed to be avoided by an agreement to be reached by a super-committee. This failed, setting the stage for the Sequester.

Obama effectively stopped governing in July, 2011. He spent that August on vacation and writing a new stimulus bill. This turned out to be nothing but a political stunt. He was leading crowds in chants of "Pass the bill" before it had even gone to Congress. Predictably, it was unacceptable to the Republicans and went no where.

During his campaign, he told supporters that Congress had a Republican Fever and that his reelection would cure it. He seemed to think that Republicans would see his reelection as a mandate for his (largely unstated) platform.

The President did have the upper hand in negotiations for the Fiscal Cliff. He proved that he was perfectly willing to let the economy fail as long as he won political points in the process. What is more, he had the upper hand. If he did nothing then the Bush tax cuts expired on everyone. He would only allow cuts for lower-wage earners to be extended. With little choice, the Republicans surrendered.

This brings us to the Sequester. Obama refused to agree to anything that did not include new taxes. The Republicans could not agree to this so the Sequester took place. rather than trying to work with the Republicans, Obama spent his time campaigning on how disruptive the cuts will be.

Reportedly, Obama's plan is to put governing on hold and spend the next year and a half running against the Republicans. His hope is to retake the House and get back to the days of, "We've got the votes! F---- the Republicans!" At this point he will rush the rest of his progressive platform through Congress.

That means that we will have three and a half years in which the President is more concerned with scoring political points than doing what is best for the country.

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