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Bipartisan Approach, Partisan Aims?

President Obama is meeting with congressional Republicans to get them on board with his economic stimulus plan, as their resistance is holding up progress on this bill. Obama's meetings with Republicans might be surprising to Democrats who clearly have enough votes in both chambers to pass this bill without much Republican support. The new president's tone so far has even rankled some Democrats, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who warned that he does not work for President Obama, but rather with him.

However, Democrats might be overreacting to Obama's efforts to reach out to Republicans. Even though Democrats might not think they need Republicans' votes, it is definitely in their collective interest to have them. President Obama may realize this, and he might be cleverly using the cloak of bipartisanship to strengthen the Democrats' political standing.

First of all, part of the genius of Obama is that he never explicitly defined "change" during the campaign. This allows him to attach any meaning he wants to it, while allowing voters to do the same. Seeing Obama consciously try to gain Republican support for his plan even though the Democrats have hefty majorities in both chambers makes for good politics. The House in particular is known for ramming bills through with the majority of votes coming from the majority party while the minority is shut out. Obama is showing that he does not want the minority to be irrelevant even though they launched every charge under the sun at him during the campaign. This magnanimity buys him political capital with moderates and persuadable Republicans and could certainly be construed as "change" compared to the Bush administration that tended not to seek compromise. It allows Obama to prove that he really does want to lower the partisanship in Washington and end the era of perpetual "political payback," another "change."

This magnanimity has another advantage in that it spreads the burden of political ownership across both parties. When you are in the minority, you cannot be held accountable for anything because you have no power--at least in the House. If popular legislation gets passed, a congressman's no-vote will often be overshadowed by the good press the legislation generates. And if the legislation turns out to be a dud, that gives the no-voting congressman a political issue to run on in the next campaign.

However, President Obama wants to ensure that as many politicians as possible have ownership of this bill. This way, everyone can take credit for its success or share the blame for its failure. President Obama can easily get this bill passed without the support of any Republicans, but he does not want this bill to be the "Democratic bailout giveaway" that Republicans run against in 2010. Forcing a significant number of Republicans to get on board will inoculate both Obama and congressional Democrats from criticism if this bill proves ineffective at reviving the economy.

If the bill succeeds, voters will be happy and will not "throw the bums out" in 2010. Everyone will have an easier time winning reelection. Of course, if the status quo is maintained, that means the Democrats will retain their majorities and Obama will maintain his political capital. And if the bill proves ineffective, Republicans will have a harder case pinning this on the Democrats because many members of their party will have voted for it too. Thus, this potential campaign issue will have been neutralized.

So what happens if Republicans continue to resist Obama's plan? They will be seen as obstructionists who are unable to compromise. Voters are not going to tell Obama to stop being bipartisan and just get the bill passed. Instead, they will be more likely to tell Republicans to work with the new president and compromise. Obama is in the honeymoon period, so voters will be more patient with him than they are with Congress. Even if no bill gets passed quickly, the fact that Obama is making sure he is being seen meeting with Republicans 1) shows that Obama is hard at work, 2) shows that Obama is sincerely trying to have an inclusive government, and 3) puts pressure on Republicans to support his bill. President Obama is much more popular than Congress is, so the pressure will be on Republicans to support Obama's proposals, rather than on Obama to support Republican proposals. If Republicans continue to protest his plan, he can remind them that he won the election, as he did a few days ago, thus reminding them of how their ideas were rejected at the ballot box and that they should be more willing to moderate their views.

While one can never know a politician's true motives, Obama is clearly politically shrewd. Through his calm demeanor and bipartisan overtures, he is laying a trap for Republicans that would minimize their political gain even if the bill succeeds. Congressional Democrats should stop worrying about how many votes they have or how much they despise the Republican opposition because Obama stands to do far more to marginalize Republicans through his "service with a smile" bipartisanship than Nancy Pelosi could ever do by simply sending the bill to the Senate without any Republican votes at all.

14 comment(s):

King Politics said...

You'll see this approach duplicated in spades when it comes to his judicial appointments. Obama will throw the GOP about one or two out of every ten appointments by nominating real, true moderates. This way it will be clear sailing for the progressive appointments

jj999 said...

I hope that Obama, his economic team, and Congress can work together to get a sensible stimulus package passed quickly.

I recently saw articles on a few newspaper websites talking about how Obama was working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to make sure that the stimulus package was smart and effective at fixing the economic problems, now and into the future. I take that as a very positive sign, since Democrats haven't always worked closely with the business community.

The main points of their discussions have been making sure that the stimulus package includes tax relief, infrastructure funding, housing industry tax credits to assist homeowners, and reducing borrower & lending fees through the Small Business Administration. Of course, there are other items that need to be in the stimulus package, but I agree with all four of those ideas.

I noticed that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is asking for input from the public to let them know which of those proposals they support the most. The Chamber can then use that data in their discussions with Obama and members of Congress. Make sure to vote in their poll here - http://www.friendsoftheuschamber.com/email/email4.cfm?id=196

S.W. Anderson said...

Obama's good-faith effort to gin up some consensus with Republicans is indeed shrewd and worth trying. Getting at least some of them to buy in will be a noteworthy achievement in itself, if he can pull it off.

However, Republicans' willingness to turn right around and condemn what they voted for a year or two back, and blame Democrats for anything that went wrong with it, is by now legendary. The GOP M.O. cocktail consists of two parts spin (or lies) to one part hypocrisy, shaken, not stirred.

"Forcing a significant number of Republicans to get on board will inoculate both Obama and congressional Democrats from criticism . . ."

I don't see Obama forcing Republicans, first because of his M.O. and secondly because the obstructionist label plays well with the people who elected them. Mitch McConnell just got re-elected by constituents who seemingly would vote for Ronald Reagan's corpse if it was on the ballot. I'm pretty sure that in Kentucky going along and getting along would be more problematic for McConnell than nonstop obstruction from now to 2010.

Freadom said...

Hold the phone. The Bush administratin DID seek compromise. It addapted many programs that were written by democrats. And Obama said he's a man of change, but he's being very partisan, particularly by telling republicans if they listen to democrats they won't be able to deal with democrats. Republicans want more tax cuts, I bet Obama won't budge on that. Basically, bipartisanship, as defined by liberals is this: Conservatives have to give, liberals do not.

Personally, I hope the republican don't sign on to this bill. Doing so would mean they are putting popularity ahead of politics -- something Bush did not do for much of his administration.

So, in that sense, "change" appears to be defined as liberal partisanship in the name of bigger government, more taxes, welfare checks going by the name of taxes, and telling repubs who not to listen to.

UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 1/25/2009, at The Unreligious Right

DB said...

I question both sides of this deal. I don't see much evidence that the Democrat ideas will work and we have seen where the Republican ideas get us (i.e. todays problems). I think this solution needs a new approach and bipartisanship will only ensure failed ideas from both sides move forward without resistance. A partisan approach will move forward failed ideas from the Democrats opening the door to Republican criticism if it actually does fail. For the country, it is lose-lose. I don't trust either party to fix this problem.

I can say though, that despite the poor execution of this bipartisanship effort, Obama does have the Republicans on the defensive having to defend themselves against charges of wanting the government to fail. Unfair charge or not, the implication is there which will need to be defended. More people will hear the implication than the defense which will ultimately hurt the Republican Party if they go against Obama. It is kind of like the Republican charges of liberals being unpatriotic...just a taste of their own medicine. When you are defending yourself, you are losing the battle.

S.W. Anderson said...

I smell smoke in here.

Freadom, I'd like to see a list of those compromises and adapted Democratic programs, along with some specifics about exactly what "adapted" meant.

I have a hunch it won't take you long to compile the list because it will be extremely short. As for adaptation, forgive me for suspecting it will turn out to be a lot like the way Col. Sanders adapted chickens to their new role as someone's dinner.

I say these things not out of a desire to be argumentative, but rather because I spent a whole lot of time following the news closely and watching C-SPAN the past several years. I don't think I could've missed that much.

S.W. Anderson said...

DB, your skepticism is somewhat understandable, but I think you're going overboard with it. If things are as hopeless as you paint them, we might as well dig a hole, crawl in and pull the dirt over.

Bipartisanship doesn't mean Republicans are owed some quota, some number of amendments to or vetoes of what the Democratic majority is trying to do.

What it does mean is giving Republicans a chance to voice their ideas and objections, along with reasonable consideration of what Republicans have to say. Sometimes, compromises can be worked out.

When Republicans raise legitimate concerns and point out weaknesses or likely problems, Democrats should pay heed and address those things sensibly. When Republicans raise ideologically based protests such as, "Hey, don't do that, the government has no business helping people with . . ." whatever, Democrats should roll over them and not look back. Same thing when Republicans make a play purely for political advantage.

The '06 and '08 elections were about change, and voters turned out in unprecedented numbers to show they want change. They rewarded Republicans appropriately for the job Republicans did when they held all the power and wielded it in a "my way or the highway" fashion, making a mess of just about everyting.

OK, so Republicans spent years getting one thing after another wrong and not listening to anybody about much of anything. That's a rotten record, but it doesn't mean they might not be right about something today or tomorrow, so they should get a fair hearing.

Case in point: Just today I watched a segment of a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the stimulus bill. Four Republicans raised various concerns and objections. Three of those struck me as having little merit. However, one had the ring of good sense to it. A Republican expressed concern about suddenly and greatly enlarging the home-weatherization program, because there might not be enough properly trained installers and workers to do the jobs right. I hope Chairman David Obey takes that concern to heart and sits down with that Republican to try to work something out. We do need to help more people with more weatherization, for everyone's ultimate benefit. But we have no business biting off more than we can chew at once, wasting money and producing lame results.

DB said...

I just haven't heard a compelling argument from either side that shows they know how to fix this problem. Republicans think that simply showing up means they have the right to a bipartisan bill, and Democrats think that since they have the power that they don't need to hear opinions from the other side. I am just saying that "business as usual", isn't going to solve these problems. Both sides need to put their country before their party.

S.W. Anderson said...

DB wrote: "Democrats think that since they have the power that they don't need to hear opinions from the other side."

In the example in my previous comment, plus what I saw in another C-SPAN segment I saw earlier in the week, Obey gave Republicans a fair chance to have their say. Watching the Senate on C-SPAN2, I see Republican senators having their say all over the place.

Democrats might or might not take everything the minority has to say to heart, but they most certainly are not suppressing them. And, from what I've seen, they're not just blowing Republicans off when they say something. Obey patiently addressed most of the concerns raised by Republicans, for one example.

And BTW, I well know what blowing off the minority looks like, because I saw plenty of it between '01 and '06.

I wholeheartedly agree both sides should put serving the public interest ahead of personal or partisan considerations.

Anonymous said...

Republican Hypocrisy And Lies About The Country

In public, most Republicans say they will work with Obama to get the economy fixed, and get the country back on track. While behind his back in closed door meetings they are planning to do everything in their power to stop what Obama wants to do. And their hypocrisy is stunning.

When George W. Bush won the election over Al Gore in 2000 he had a $100 Billion dollar surplus, then during his 8 years as the President he spent money like a drunk sailor. The $1.2 trillion dollar tax cut, the $800 Billion dollar Iraq War, Billions for Afghanistan, the $500 Billion dollar stimulous, a $1 Trillion dollar deficit, and on and on.

Every Republican in Congress voted yes for everything Bush wanted, they gave him a blank check, and approved whatever he asked for. When Democrats complained that Bush is spening too much, borrowing from our kids future, and increasing the deficit too much. Republicans said shut up, we know what's best for America, and who cares about borrowing from our kids future, or the deficit.

They said nobody cares about the deficit, so shut up and vote yes for everything Bush wants or you are un-American. Now that Obama is the President, and the Democrats have a majority in the House and the Senate it's a whole different story. Suddenly they care about spening, deficits, and borrowing from our kids future.

These very same Republicans are now crying that Obama is spending too much, when his plan is only $825 Billion, the Bush tax cut alone was $1.2 Trillion, every single Republican supported it, and voted for it. And now they cry about $825 Billion, when the country actually needs it, and some economists like Paul Krugman say we need more than $825 Billion.

But the Republicans still think it's too much, and they are also crying that it will raise the deficit. But when Bush was President they said the deficit does not matter, now suddenly it does, that's some big time hypocrisy. And they are crying that we will be borrowing from our kids future, but when Bush did it they said it was no problem, and even told Democrats to shut up and vote for the Bush plan or you are un-American.

Not to mention if we do not fix this economy soon there may not be a future for our kids. Republicans are now using the same arguments against the Democrats that they dismissed when they had the power, it's not just hypocrisy, it's dishonesty. They want Obama to fail, just ask Rush Limbaugh. And if Obama fails the country fails.

Here is the real reason a lot of Republicans do not want to vote for the Obama economic recovery plan. Republicans want Obama to fail because if he gets his economic policies put in place and things get better, Obama and the Democratic party will get credit for fixing the economy.

Obama will probably get re-elected in 2012, be the President for 8 years, and after his 8 years another Democrat will most likely win the white house again. Not to mention the Democrats will probably hold their majority in the House and the Senate. And it will also make Bush look terrible, even worse than he looks now.

So the Republicans like Rush Limbaugh and others are willing to put partisan politics ahead of fixing the economy. Which is just another reason why everyone should continue to vote more Republicans out of office in the 2010 mid-term elections, and the 2012 elections.

The Republicans do not care about the people, or fixing the economy, all they care about is trying to make Obama fail so he can not take credit for fixing the economy. And they have said they will do whatever they can to make Obama fail, even after the American people called for bi-partisan agreement to get the economy fixed.

Obama was elected in a landslide victory, by a 360 to 180 margin. The American people also gave the Democrats a bigger majority in the Senate, and the House. They did this so Obama would have the votes to pass his economic plan and get the country back on track. Yet the Republicans dont care about any of that, they want to go against the will of the people for political reasons.

Barack Obama is the President now, so here is a message for the Republicans in Congress. Shut the hell up and vote yes for whatever Obama wants to do, just like you cowards did when Bush was the President. If he fails, we all fail. He was elected by the people to see if his plan would work, so you have to give him a chance, just like you did for Bush. If you dont, you are un-American and you want America to fail.

S.W. Anderson said...

Anonymous, that was so nail-hit-on-head good, you shouldn't be anonymous.

The short version is that Republicans can be counted on to say and do whatever they think will help them win power and control, and keep power and control. Some of them are choosing their words a little more carefully right now, but day by day I see they're playing the same old game.

Khaki Elephant said...

I see Republican opposition to the stimulus package as a low-risk resistance. First of all, they can't stop it from passing so they will never be seen as actually preventing economic recovery. But more importantly, the GOP must rebound from the damaging government expansion of the Bush administration and return to their small-government roots. And what better way than to oppose a trillion dollar package loaded with pork that they can pick apart and point to as irresponsible spending.

Anonymous said...

This bill is nothing but pork spending. I'm a democrat and it's insane that other democrats are going for this just because it's Obama! READ IT. It's unbelievable how he wants to waist tax payer money. Your children and grandchildren will pay for this. It will not create any jobs this year or next. If this passes the way it is, it will be the beginning of another great depression that will last MANY years. History repeats itself. Read up on what congress did right before the great depression. Your missing it!

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