(Photo: rutsig / Flickr)
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were
a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
- Mark Twain
Former GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough was doing his MSNBC morning yak-fest on Friday, and made a comment about how President Obama's newly-finalized stimulus package has "greatly offended Republicans." His guests all agreed with solemnly nodding heads, yeah, you're right, Joe, Obama offended the Republicans. Greatly and stuff.
This grim pronouncement came on the heels of GOP Sen. Judd Gregg's stunning announcement that he was withdrawing as Obama's nominee for commerce secretary. Citing irreconcilable differences between himself and the Obama administration on the stimulus bill as well as the upcoming census, Gregg said, "The bottom line is, this was simply a bridge too far for me."
Gregg's sudden announcement delivered a rather significant four-pronged screwing to the Obama administration. First, it stepped all over a news cycle that should have been dominated by a triumphant White House awaiting delivery of the finalized stimulus bill for signature. Second, Gregg's withdrawal let him vote on the final bill, a certain "no" vote. Third, it gave further voice to the preposterous Congressional GOP claims of being shut out of the process by the administration. Fourth, it adds another page to the ever-lengthening storyline of Obama's nomination troubles.
President Obama has not had a great deal of luck dealing with the minority GOP in Congress. From the beginning, GOP members lied outright about the contents of the stimulus package, squealed indignantly for the inclusion of every failed Bush fiscal policy one could name, and in the end, did a fantastic job of gumming up the works and muddying the waters in order to thwart the passage of this bill. That they failed is of little consequence; they made their presence known with far more vigor than their dwindled numbers would seem to allow, and all because President Obama wanted to work in a bi-partisan fashion.
In his inaugural address, he promised to reach out a hand to anyone willing to unclench their fist. The GOP responded not only with clenched fists, but with swinging clenched fists. It seems early to give up already, but facts are facts, and Obama needs to withdraw his hand and just wave these people off.
Consider the following recounting of the stimulus package process, related by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) in her diary on the website DailyKos.com:
As Chair of the House Rules Committee, I must clear up untruths regarding the economic recovery package. We've heard a lot of noise across the aisle about how partisan the development of the bill was - that Republicans were blocked from being involved. This is entirely false. In fact, this was one of the most open processes a bill this large has had in over a decade.
They are being disingenuous, or worse. These are the facts:
The bill, as it came to the Rules Committee, the last stop before the floor vote, already incorporated 12 Republican amendments. The Rules Committee then added the 11 amendments: 6 Democratic and 5 Republican, in addition to a complete Republican substitute, and a motion to recommit. They were unable to muster the votes necessary and lost on bipartisan votes. House Republicans may have come together to vote against the final bill, but they split on their own amendments with 40 to 60 Republicans voting with Democrats. Some Republicans even voted against their party's alternative bill, and it failed on the floor.
The Republican alternative didn't have a final price tag, consisted entirely of tax cuts, and would actually raise taxes for 26 million American families. In two years, the Democratic bill would create 3.6 million jobs. The Republican substitute: 1.2 million - a third as many as the Democratic bill that passed the House. President Obama even met with House Republicans more times in two weeks to discuss this legislation than President Bush did with House Democrats in two terms. The Republicans were certainly allowed in the process, but they wanted to obstruct.
Dan Froomkin, writing on Friday morning for the Washington Post's White House Watch blog, examined the Gregg/stimulus GOP crack-up thusly: "The voters sent President Obama to Washington with a mandate to change the way this town works. But yesterday's decision by GOP Sen. Judd Gregg to withdraw as the commerce secretary nominee is the latest sign that the Republican Party has no interest in going along."
"Obama, while aggressively pursuing a traditionally Democratic agenda," he continued, "has nevertheless said that in the long run he and Republicans can find a considerable amount of common ground around shared values and pragmatism. But Gregg's withdrawal is yet more evidence either that Obama underestimated the ideological gulf between the elected officials of the two parties, or that Republicans are getting more rather than less hostile towards efforts to reach out. Or both."
In other words, and to a large measure, this whole thing just is what it is, and the GOP obstructionists are how they are, and President Obama would do well to refrain from battering his head into this particular brick wall.
For the record, here are a few of the items in the stimulus package that left the GOP so greatly offended, per BusinessWeek.com:
$30 billion for a smart power grid, advanced battery technology, and energy efficiency measures.
$20 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency over the next 10 years. Tax credits for families that purchase plug-in hybrid vehicles of up to $7,500.
$5 billion to improve the energy efficiency of more than 1 million homes.
$6.3 billion for increasing energy efficiency in federally supported housing programs.
$3 billion for the National Science Foundation for basic research in fundamental science and engineering. $1.6 billion for the Energy Dept.'s Office of Science, which funds research in such areas as climate science, biofuels, high-energy physics, nuclear physics, and fusion energy sciences . $8.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health, including expanding good jobs in biomedical research to study diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cancer, and heart disease.
$7 billion for extending broadband services to underserved communities.
$87 billion over the next two years in additional federal matching funds to help states maintain Medicaid programs.
$53.6 billion for a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund-$40.6 billion to local school districts, which can be used for preventing cutbacks, preventing layoffs, school modernization, and other purposes; $5 billion as bonus grants for meeting key performance measures; and $8 billion for public safety and other services.
Higher education tax credit increased to a maximum of $2,500, and makes it available to nearly 4 million low-income students by making it partially refundable
Increases the maximum Pell Grant by $500, for a maximum of $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010.
$200 million added to the College Work-Study Program.
$1.1 billion for Early Head Start.
$1 billion for Head Start.
$2 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant to provide child care services to an additional 300,000 children in low-income families while their parents go to work.
$13 billion for Title I grants to help disadvantaged kids reach high academic standards.
$12.2 billion for special education grants.
$29 billion for modernizing roads and bridges. $18 billion for clean water, flood control, and environmental restoration investments.
$5 billion for improvements in Defense Dept. facilities.
Child tax credit expanded to allow families to begin qualifying for the child tax credit with every dollar earned over $3,000.
Earned Income Tax Credit expanded by providing tax relief to families with three or more children and increasing marriage penalty relief.
New, partially refundable $2,500 tax credit for families. Temporarily suspends taxation of some unemployment benefits. Tax credits for hiring recently discharged unemployed veterans and youth that have been out of work and out of school for the six months prior to hire. New bond-financing program for school construction, rehabilitation, and repair.
Increases unemployment benefits for 20 million jobless workers by $25 per week.
Increases food stamp benefits by 13%.
$100 million for Emergency Food & Shelter to help local community organizations provide food and shelter; $100 million for formula grants to states for elderly nutrition services including Meals on Wheels; and $150 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program to purchase commodities for food banks to refill emptying shelves.
$4 billion for job training including formula grants for adult job training, dislocated worker job training, and youth services (including funding for summer jobs for young people).
$500 million for Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants to help persons with disabilities.
$500 million to match unemployed individuals to job openings.
$120 million to provide community service jobs to an additional 24,000 low-income older Americans.
Payment of $250 to Social Security beneficiaries, as well as veterans receiving disability compensation and pension benefits from the Veterans Affairs.
There are a few distinct reasons the GOP has decided to get in the way of everything proposed by the Obama administration and the Congressional Democratic majority. They need to appear to be relevant after back-to-back electoral pastings in 2006 and 2008. Because they are better at playing the media game than the Democrats, they can telegraph whatever remaining strengths they have far more effectively.
They need Obama to fail on all fronts if they are to have a prayer at recovering lost ground at the polls in 2010. Finally, they only have representation in states where Bush remains popular and the GOP cant on government remains holy writ, so if they want to keep those few remaining seats, they have to play in the hard-right part of the pool. This is not a group of people Obama should expect anything from beyond what has already been demonstrably in evidence. Hoping for something different is a foolish pipe dream.
President Obama can work with the Democratic Congressional majorities to pass future legislation, perhaps making sure to get one GOP vote in the Senate to thwart a filibuster. If no such vote is forthcoming, he can dump any quixotic quest for one or any GOP votes and dare the GOP to filibuster widely popular bills. He's not going to get GOP support for anything, so why bother trying? Let them keep it up and lose every time, and let them try to stand on that record for the 2010 midterms.
President Obama needs to do the work the people overwhelmingly elected him to do, and if the GOP does not want to be a part of that work, so be it. In the long run, a string of Democrat-only legislative victories will have a dynamic effect on the obstructionist tendencies of the GOP. Sooner or later, they'll come running in whole or in part to Obama's side of the aisle, if only to save themselves. Until then, dump them.