Obama the hyper-partisan?
As the Democrats close in on passing health-care reform with only D votes, conservatives are describing President Obama as "hyper-partisan," shoving the blame for the current lack of bipartisanship onto him and his allies in Congress. It's a familiar narrative getting yet another spin, and, among other things, the evidence its articulators cite is that the president hasn’t proposed a major initiative that had a chance of significant bipartisan support, unlike President Bush at this point in his presidency.
Oh? What about the bipartisan fiscal commission that Obama proposed and that a group of GOP lawmakers -- dripping with hypocrisy -- outrageously nixed, even though they had pushed the idea just weeks before. This could have been huge -- Congress could have been required to make a straight up-or-down vote on the bipartisan commission’s recommendations to fix the budget. Instead, it became a casualty to Republican political calculation.
Or how about the massive overhaul of student loan policy that looks set to pass along with health care? An even more ambitious version than that which will be attached to the health-care bill passed the House 253 to 171. Moderate GOP Rep. Thomas Petri (Wisc.) has championed such reform for years. True, the Republican total on the vote -- six ayes -- wasn’t huge. But in a House so dominated by Democrats, that’s nothing to scoff at. More importantly, it wasn’t unreasonable for Obama to expect more support from the GOP, since even President Bush favored sticking it to private lenders making a living off of government guarantees and subsidies, as the system now allows. Instead, we’ve heard disingenuous tripe about a “government takeover” of education.
Or what about the lengths to which Obama has gone to reach out to Republicans on energy, promising massive assistance for nuclear power and support for more offshore drilling? Swathes of his liberal base loathe such policies. Sure, Obama’s outreach is in the context of a larger effort to get a price on carbon enacted. But pricing carbon is yet another policy Obama could have reasonably expected Republicans to have some interest in, at least if they felt like making good on their free-market ideological convictions. Instead, we’ve heard a lot of unhelpful rhetoric about “cap-and-tax” from GOP leaders. Yet even now, any comprehensive energy plan will need GOP votes in the Senate, and the White House has already shown it’s willing to work for them.
I don’t accept the argument that Democrats bear no blame for the current environment. They deserve plenty. On health care, for example, they could have tried harder to get the Olympia Snowes in Congress on board, rather than giving up after the relatively more conservative Chuck Grassley toyed with them in the Senate Finance Committee. And Democratic concessions to unions, particularly on how to tax “Cadillac plans,” are bad policy and bad for the legislative environment. But it strains the imagination to believe that the GOP hasn’t done more than its share to make the partisan strife worse.
| March 18, 2010; 7:30 AM ET
Categories: Stromberg | Tags: Stephen Stromberg
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