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Welcome Back, Congress

If you believe in the legislative process -- if you actually believe that members of Congress have a role in formulating the laws of this land, rather than just rubber-stamping whatever the president wants -- then you really can't get freaked out when that process gets messy. It is a messy process.

If you persist in seeing all of politics as a game, and believe that all that matters is who appears to be winning or losing at a particular moment, then yes, it may look to you like President Obama is losing right now, because so many lawmakers are suddenly running around with their hands in the air screaming.

But I don't think that's correct. It's just that unlike former president George W. Bush, who treated Congress like an appendage of the executive branch, Obama has made it clear that he thinks Congress actually gets to do its job again.

Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post:

President Obama's hopes for quick action on comprehensive health-care reform ran headlong this week into the realities of Congress, as lawmakers searching for the money to pay for a broad expansion of coverage discovered that it wasn't easy to find and descended into partisan -- and intraparty -- bickering.

A set of unexpectedly high cost estimates -- arcane data that nevertheless carry enormous import in the legislative process -- sent shockwaves along Pennsylvania Avenue and forced one key committee to delay action on its bill, probably until after the July 4 recess.

But the White House doesn't seem unduly alarmed. Connolly writes that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel described haggling over cost estimates as a routine part of lawmaking, and told her: "Since it's the first inning, I wouldn't call the game."

Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei write for Politico:

"This was always going to be messy," said a senior administration strategist. "It got messy faster and earlier than people thought. But none of it is anything that’s going to stop it."

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz writes:

There is a tendency in the press, of course, to over-obsess on process, to overreact to each tactical setback. Remember all the back-and-forth over whether the stimulus package should be more than $787 billion? Of course you don't. It seems unimportant now, compared to the overarching question of whether unemployment will hit 11 percent and the economy will stabilize.

By year's end, Obama will either have delivered on health reform or he won't. His green-jobs energy package will be law or it won't. Presidents don't get everything they want, and the public is usually fuzzy on the fine print. What matters are the broad strokes.

But is Obama newly vulnerable? I wrote skeptically yesterday about the newly emerging media narrative. But Dan Balz, blogging for The Washington Post, takes it and runs with it:

President Obama may still hold the high ground politically in Washington, but the outlines of an opposition message have suddenly begun to come together. On domestic and foreign policy, Obama's opponents have found cracks in his armor.

The most serious potential problem is a thread that runs through his entire agenda and poses the fundamental question for the domestic side of his presidency. How much more government will Americans tolerate?...

Obama is lucky to have an opposition party that has so many of its own problems. But that will be of only limited comfort to him in the coming months. The public may disapprove of the Republicans, but they can easily start turning against the president if he doesn't deliver what he's promised. Five months after his inauguration, reality is beginning to sink in.

It seems to me you could more easily make the argument that Obama isn't being too daring, he's being too timid -- most recently when it comes to his proposed regulatory overhaul. Steven Pearlstein writes in his Washington Post column:

What does it tell you when banks, investment houses, insurance companies and derivatives traders are so pleased with their regulators that they are prepared to pull out all the stops to keep them?

What it tells me is that the current system of financial regulation has been thoroughly captured by the companies it was meant to restrain -- and that the only way to put things right is to bring in new rules, a new structure and tough new regulators. Anything short of that, and you can almost guarantee that the inmates will be back in charge of the asylum by the time the next bubble starts to develop.

Judged by that standard, the proposals the Obama administration put forward this week to reform the regulatory apparatus were a bit of a disappointment.

And Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times opinion column:

Yes, the plan would plug some big holes in regulation. But as described, it wouldn’t end the skewed incentives that made the current crisis inevitable.

Meanwhile, Sam Youngman writes about Obama's speech last night at a big Democratic fundraiser:

[T]he president appeared to be steeling and warning Democratic fundraisers that Republicans were sharpening their attack lines for the midterm elections, a subtle prod to "dig deep" lest they lose control of Congress.

Obama noted that many of the actions that he has taken are "not necessarily popular," and he warned that the criticisms of his administration will only get worse as he takes on more issues.

"But that's the nature of things," Obama said. "This is when the criticism gets louder. This is when the pundits get impatient. This is when the cynicism mounts."

The president dismissed those who say he is not changing the way Washington works, laughing at critics who question whether or not change is possible.

"Can't do it. System overload. Circuits breaking down," Obama said, mimicking a robot. "It's so predictable.

"So this is exactly the moment when we need to fight the hardest. This is the moment when we need to band together."

By Dan Froomkin  |  June 19, 2009; 12:29 PM ET
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How stupid. It's not the president who decides whether or not congress will "get to do its job again." It's the congress.

Putting all the blame on Bush is to excuse all those Republicans who decided to become attached to his appendage. Bush may have loved them for it. But the choice was theirs.

Posted by: infuse | June 19, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

The rise of the 24 hour news cycle and cable news has doomed us to repeat the same tragic mistakes over and over. Doubters should check out Paul Krugman's blog from this morning and marvel at the similarities:

Gallup Poll [December, 1935]

Do you think it necessary at this time to balance the budget and start reducing the national debt?

70% Yes
30 No

Gallup Poll [May, 1936]

Are the acts of the present Administration helping or hindering recovery?

55% Helping
45 Hindering

Gallup Poll (AIPO) [November, 1936]


65% YES
28 NO

Posted by: BigTunaTim | June 19, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Right on, bigtunatim. Check out the conservatives' posts from yesterday's WHW. No clue whatsoever about how a seriously depressed economy behaves (and you don't need to be a specialist to at least gain a general idea). It's frustrating to see Obama's negotiating style with Congress: set a general goal, and turn the particulars over to them, as opposed to even crafting his own proposal for Congress to make adjustments to. I think he gets less than he might by advocating more forcefully for some particulars. That's not his style, and we have only the stimulus bill as any evidence of what comes from his approach. These three bills: climate change; health care; and financial regulation, will tell us all we need to know about the effectiveness of Obama's approach to Congress.

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 19, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

@whizbang: "No clue whatsoever about how a seriously depressed economy behaves (and you don't need to be a specialist to at least gain a general idea)."

I suspect they remain clueless on purpose because the more they understand the sillier their dogma appears. Except that rather than having an empty void where useful economic knowledge would be, they seem to delight in filling it with an alternate version of reality that they cling to ferociously. Then, instead of responding to statements of macroeconomic fact with a blank stare, they can vehemently argue whatever alternative they've embraced.

In this case it seems that the alternate reality is "if deficits are bad 95% of the time then they are self-evidently bad 100% of the time." And they're willing to plunge us into the Second Depression if necessary to see it through to the end.

And I definitely agree about Obama. Moreso than what we need to know, I sure hope Obama learns all HE needs to know about his approach from these three bills.. and modifies it accordingly in the future.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | June 19, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I just got the news (via Dana Milbank's online chat) that your days at the Post are coming to an end. I do hope that you read the comments on the Ombudsman's blog. You will get a sense of just how many of your readers are seriously upset with this decision. With the op-ed page in the print edition looking more and more like Fox News (hang in there, E.J. Dionne!) I find that I can zip through the worthwhile content in record time, rather than lingering over my morning paper long enough to miss my bus. Now that you're leaving the online edition, I suppose I'm going to have to stop reading the Post during the daytime and be more productive at my job, too! Oh, the indignity. I'm just going to have to bookmark the Nieman Watch site.

Posted by: n_mcguire | June 19, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Meet-up WAPO corporate office 5PM.
Bring signs --
"Where's My Froomkin Vote?"

Posted by: HereComesTheJudge | June 19, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

It's depressing, bigtunatim, but you're right. I've been discussing global warming with an anti-GW friend of mine. I'm not a "save the planet!" zealot, but I do think there's a strong possibility that our coasts in particular face real danger from rising sea levels, and that we'd be foolish to ignore the threat. And his reaction is just like the folks' we've been discussing to deficits: any slight objection invalidates the whole premise. One scientist, let alone a few hundred, scientists dissenting from global warming predictions, is enough to negate the possibility that it's occurring, and more, negates even the need to learn anything about it. So here. The fact that deficits generally aren't a good thing, negates any possible usefulness they'd have in a genuine downturn, and what's worse, these folks don't want to even try to learn more about it.

Kind of like W. All gut and no brain.

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 19, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

And the guy's a geologist, a self-professed earth scientist, and he'd rather maintain his ignorance. It's just depressing.

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 19, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I would like to say the reason Dan is being let go is this:

He was a great attack dog for the WashPost during the Bush years, but has little value (for the Post) to do the same to the Obama WH. The WashPost is the 2nd most liberal paper in the land (close behind the NY Times). They can't afford to have someone keeping tabs and calling out the misdeeds on the media's "anointed one".

Though rarely in agreement w/Dan's take on issues, I liked reading his postings in order to get the "other sides" POV. I really like the fact that his willing to poke some holes and question the Obama WH as well. Unfortunately, this unique ability is what I believe lead to his dismissal.

Posted by: dillerjames | June 19, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

If anyone cared to look back through my comment leading up to the fall 2008 election, they might find that I warned that the election was not the end but the beginning. All of us who were dismayed by the Bush years need to remember why we did what we did. Now is the time to support our President through these incredibly tough days. If any of us were in his seat now, would it be helpful to hear the chorus of "where's the action, Mr. President?"

This is real government of, by, and for the people: us. We need to come up with ideas, prod representatives, argue with our neighbors, and push for the kind of country we want. It is not an ideological country, except for the ideals in our founding documents and our history. It is, rather, an experiment of immense proportion. We have to correct, reform, rebuild, and make peace.

In what we have chosen for our form of government, it is from us that power and direction comes. Putting it on the shoulders of one or another branch is childish and ignorant. Does anyone read the meaning of things any more? Where is this line from: "That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"? Well, if we truly believe in this idea, we'd better stop quibbling and roll up our sleeves and get some work done.

We deserve the government we get. Seems even the Iranians are teaching us about democracy. Meanwhile, fools still howl in the desert. Oh well!

Posted by: Jazzman7 | June 19, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

dillerjames--kind thoughts for Dan, especially for someone who disagrees with him, but you have it backward about the Post. It's a very conservative-leaning paper, with a heavy preponderance of right-wing columists and editors. (Fred Hiatt, chief editor, did his best to proclaim for years that Bush and Cheney were merely deluded into war in Iraq--not that they manufactured the case. He also championed that wrongheaded case for war when it was made. That is known as cheerleading in the press.) But I'm glad that you do appreciate Dan's capacity to criticize Obama too. Too many posters here ignore that.

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 19, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse


Dan does the BEST job of bringing political inconsistencies to light.


Posted by: org2 | June 19, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I didn't read Froomkin regularly, especially since the election, but without his column, I am unsubscribing from the Post. The line up of op-ed people, and Hiatt's choices do nothing for me. I will follow Dan, hopefully, to his new post.

Posted by: jfnorman2 | June 19, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Due to the dismissal of Dan Froomkin I am boycotting the WAPO including all of its op-ed and bloggers.

Posted by: mickster1 | June 19, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Due to the silencing of Dan Froomkin, I have no further use for WAPO at this point and will cease to read any of their content.

Posted by: sadsadsad | June 19, 2009 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Now that you've decided to be the online and print version of Fixed (Faux) News, I'm turning the channel. Because with Froomkin gone, I'll have no reason to check in anymore. Hope all the right wing nuts who still read this thing, offset progressives like me. My how the once mighty Post has fallen. Bye!

Posted by: Russron | June 19, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Washington Post really did Crash and Burn. I can't believe they're really going to fire the one consistent voice of reason that they have.

They fire Froomkin, while they let George Will and Krauthammer say whatever the hell they want. Facts be damned.

Even when the very people George Will was quoting were crying out that Will had no idea what he was talking about, that he was making stuff up, WaPo wouldn't budge.

And recently Krauthammer has gone way beyond facts, he's just been talking prophetic religious gibberish.

I can't imagine that Froomkin's sin was any worse. I guess the print media isn't just dying, it is already dead.

Posted by: zosima | June 20, 2009 12:49 AM | Report abuse

"It's a very conservative-leaning paper, with a heavy preponderance of right-wing columists and editors."

What a joke. What about Dionne, Robinson, Meyerson, Cohen, Toles, Capehart, King, Jacoby, Telnaes et al.

There are still more liberal columnists at the Post than there are conservatives. As the Kristol experience at the NY Times demonstrates, liberals can not stand the idea of the mere presence of conservative views. The hysterical claims on this blog demonstrate that.

Posted by: bobmoses | June 20, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Y'alls are boot licks for firing Dan. He was the best reporter you had going for you even though you billed him as "opinion". He challenged the government, he challenged the media, he challenged us all with his questions, his probes and his posts. But boot licks for whom, you might ask me. For your tired, worn out, stymied view of our nation, our culture and our government. WaPo, you are on notice. You are no longer relevant. One after one the best reporters have left your paper. And now the best of the best: Froomkin. That's it. I no longer read your paper. You are toast.

Posted by: dabeckster | June 20, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

I too will be leaving the WaPo. It is astounding how little bs calling is happening in this country's newspapers. Froomkin was my favorite read and I'll be following him.
The Post was my hero newspaper long ago when I taught hs journalism; now I'm glad I'm retired. Seems more PR than journalism.

Posted by: unclealbert | June 22, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

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