Republicans hold key to progress in Washington
The US government was never intended to function with the extreme levels of partisan rancor of the Obama years. Reagan would be remembered as a failure had he faced from Democrats the obstructionism of today's tea party-beholden GOP. But signs of hope also lie with the Republicans.
The American democratic system of government was never intended to function with the extreme levels of partisan loyalty and rancor that have characterized the Obama years – the like of which has not been seen since the years immediately prior to the Civil War.Skip to next paragraph
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This largely explains why President Obama, who was solidly elected to the presidency twice, can’t get more of his agenda through Congress. After all, the Republicans have only controlled one house of Congress during three of his five years in office. Ronald Reagan managed to get a lot done, even though the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives for his entire presidency.
But on every major issue, from increasing defense spending to cutting taxes, Reagan had allies in the Democratic Party. Today, Mr. Obama cannot count on a single Republican vote on any vital matter before the House, and scant few in the Senate, outside of immigration.
Even Nixon, at the nadir of his presidency, had more support from the opposition for parts of his agenda than Obama has today.
Is the fault Obama’s? Has his cold professorial style alienated Republicans? Has he not moderated his agenda enough?
Moderated his agenda? Republican-style tax cuts made up a third of his 2009 stimulus. His health-care plan was largely the Republican alternative to Hillarycare. His (and the Fed's) response to the global securities collapse has sent the stock market skyrocketing, and sent no Wall Streeters to jail – though at least one may be on his way. His immigration plan is very near to George W. Bush’s. His gun control plan in response to the horrific Newtown massacre was to the right of Reagan’s Brady Bill.
Sure, if a more experienced Washington insider had become president in 2009 – a Joe Biden or a Hillary Rodham Clinton – it’s possible a few more Republican votes would have been gettable, but not enough to change the outcome on any of Obama’s key agenda items.
And of course, Obama has misplayed his hand badly on occasion. His rhetoric at the last fiscal cliff, that allowing sequestration to take place would be a disaster for the country, hasn’t turned out to be true. The Republicans who proclaimed there was more than enough fat in every agency to withstand the first round of cuts without widespread suffering, have been vindicated. Specific vulnerable populations have been hurt by sequestration, but it is far from the disaster Obama foretold.
But these are minor parts of the story. Most of the responsibility – and possibility for progress – lies with Republicans, especially in the House. (Several key Senate Republicans have forged a compromise on immigration.)
GOP members have seen that simply hugging Obama once can virtually end a Republican career (see the former governor of Florida, Charlie Crist). A single vote with Obama has done the same for several Republicans in Congress.
The tea party movement, which represents not a third party but the most conservative, populist elements within the base of the GOP, has defeated almost no Democrats. But its interventions in Republican primaries have sent home many Republican incumbents.
There were early signs of extremists holding lawmaking – and even GOP agendas – hostage in Congress. In the mid-1990s, GOP House speakers began following The Hastert Rule, named after Speaker Dennis Hastert. It commands that the leadership of the GOP in the House allow no bill to come up for a vote that doesn’t have majority support in the Republican caucus. And it can be read as an early harbinger of the grassroots extremism ruling Republican politics.