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“The Consequences Of Republican Obstruction”: We Need To Be Clear About Why Our Politics Is Broken Right Now

One of my favorite writers – Leonard Pitts – has weighed in on the topic du jour these days for pundits: what led to the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary. He starts off with a quote from former Republican Senator George Voinovich: “If he was for it, we had to be against it.” That was the beginning of the Republican strategy against the newly elected President back in 2009.

The popular storyline goes that voters are seeking political outsiders this year in their frustration over a government where the legislative gears are frozen and nothing gets done. What that storyline forgets is that this gridlock was by design, that GOP leaders held a meeting on the very evening of the president’s first inauguration and explicitly decided upon a policy of non-cooperation to deny him anything approaching a bipartisan triumph…

Republicans and their media accomplices buttressed that strategy with a campaign of insult and disrespect designed to delegitimize Obama. With their endless birther stupidity, their death panels idiocy, their constant budget brinksmanship and their cries of, “I want my country back!” they stoked in the public nothing less than hatred for the interloper in the White House who’d had the nerve to be elected president.

And the strategy worked, hobbling and frustrating Obama. But as a bullet doesn’t care who it hits and a fire doesn’t care who it burns, the forces of ignorance and unreason, grievance and fear the Republicans calculatedly unleashed have not only wounded the president. No, it becomes more apparent every day that those forces have gravely wounded politics itself, meaning the idea that we can — or even should — reason together, compromise, form consensus.

Of course I agree with Pitts because I wrote basically the same thing recently. Just as it is critical for a doctor to accurately diagnose a disease in order to effectively treat it, we need to be clear about why our politics is broken right now in order to craft effective solutions.

One way to test the diagnosis Pitts has articulated is to think about what happened prior to the 2010 midterm elections – when Democrats had control of both houses of Congress – and afterwards. In the first 2 years of the Obama presidency, he and the Democrats managed to pass:

1. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
2. The Affordable Care Act
3. The Dodd-Frank Act
4. Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
5. The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act
6. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
7. The Fair Sentencing Act
8. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act
9. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act
10. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act

That’s a pretty impressive list for just two years, isn’t it? When you compare it to how little has been accomplished in the last 5 1/2 years, the contrast is astounding. The comparison is even more stark when you look at what the two Parties have been doing over those years. While the Republicans have spent most of their time trying to repeal Obamacare and threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get their way, President Obama and the Democrats have put forward a list of policy proposals that have been either ignored or actively obstructed by the Republicans.

1. Comprehensive immigration reform
2. The American Jobs Act
3. Universal pre-K
4. Raise the minimum wage
5. Paid family/sick leave
6. Free community college
7. Gun background checks
8. Criminal justice reform
9. Restoration of the Voting Rights Act

As a thought experiment, it’s interesting to contemplate what might have happened over these last few years if either the Democrats had maintained their majorities in Congress and/or if the Republicans had taken the advice of people like David Frum and actually attempted to negotiate solutions.

There are voices out there who diagnose our political situation differently than the analysis above from Leonard Pitts. Some in the media are particularly fond of the “both sides do it” mythology. As we’ve seen, Bernie Sanders comes close to embracing that idea with his analysis that the entire political process is rigged by big money – both Republicans and Democrats. While money in politics plays a role, it is clear that Democrats have an agenda to address the challenges we face and Republicans have cast their lot with fanning the flames of fear/anger in order to obstruct progress. The consequences of that decision by the GOP are that: progress has been halted, the stage was set for a Donald Trump candidacy and our political system has been gravely wounded.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 8, 2916

March 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Obstructionism, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Walk Down Memory Lane On Republican Obstruction”: A Consciously Thought-Out Strategy To Create Dysfunction

For some of us its pretty galling to hear Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggest that the way to end dysfunction in Washington is for President Obama to move to the “middle,” or to have to listen to a Republican presidential candidate opine about the lack of “adult conversations” in D.C.

For the record, here’s a little walk down memory lane of Republicans talking publicly about their strategy for obstruction:

1993Bill Kristol writes a memo outlining a strategy for Republicans on President Clinton’s health care reform proposal.

Faced with forceful objections in the past, the [Clinton] Administration has generally preferred to bargain and compromise with Congress so as to achieve any victory it can. But health care is not, in fact, just another Clinton domestic policy. And the conventional political strategies Republicans have used in the past are inadequate to the task of defeating the Clinton plan outright. That must be our goal…

Simple, green-eyeshades criticism of the plan…is fine so far as it goes. But in the current climate, such opposition only wins concessions, not surrender…

Any Republican urge to negotiate a “least bad” compromise with the Democrats, and thereby gain momentary public credit for helping the president “do something” about health care, should also be resisted.

2003Governor Deval Patrick recalls Grover Norquist’s comments on plans for a “permanent Republican majority.”

At our 25th college reunion in 2003, Grover Norquist — the brain and able spokesman for the radical right — and I, along with other classmates who had been in public or political life, participated in a lively panel discussion about politics. During his presentation, Norquist explained why he believed that there would be a permanent Republican majority in America.

One person interrupted, as I recall, and said, “C’mon, Grover, surely one day a Democrat will win the White House.”

Norquist immediately replied: “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”

2009 – As Michael Grunwald reported, these two ideas coalesced into a Republican plan on how to respond to the election of President Barack Obama.

…the Republican plot to obstruct President Obama before he even took office, including secret meetings led by House GOP whip Eric Cantor (in December 2008) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (in early January 2009) in which they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular President-elect during an economic emergency. “If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.”

2010 – Having implemented that plan in response to President Obama’s proposal to reform health care, former speech-writer for President George W. Bush – David Frum – is ejected from the party for writing this:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994…

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan…Too late now. They are all the law.

2011 – Former Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren explains the strategy.

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

So let’s be clear…this was a consciously thought-out strategy by Republicans to create dysfunction in Congress that never fit the “both sides do it” meme embraced by much of the media.

As I’ve pointed out before, President Obama has engaged a lot of different strategies to deal with this obstruction that have each had various amounts of success at different times. But as we head into the next presidential election, we’re likely to hear a lot about how Washington doesn’t work.

That will be the big challenge for the Democratic nominee in 2016. I only wish it was possible for them to take Paul Waldman’s advice.

So imagine if a candidate in the general election, or a president in his inaugural speech, said, “This is my program. I realize that the folks in the other party don’t like it. There may be a few places where we can compromise, and if so, that would be terrific. But I’m going to treat the voters like adults and tell them that I’m not expecting a whole lot of cooperation. I’m going to fight for what I promised to do when I ran, and if you don’t like the results, you can turn me out in four years.”

That would at least be honest, and nobody would be disappointed when the result is partisan fighting.

Of course he’s right when he says that would be honest. The question is…are American voters ready for honesty?


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 1, 2015

February 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Health Reform, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Original Naysayer”: Obstructionist Mitch McConnell Totally Said No Before Saying No Was Cool

A number of journalists have been casting about desperately for sources of hope, and some of them have settled on moderate Republicans, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Paul Kane calls him “perhaps the most accomplished congressional dealmaker of his time.” McConnell hasn’t been shy about portraying himself as a savior, either. “I’ve demonstrated, once again, that when the Congress is in gridlock and the country is at risk, I’m the guy who steps forward and tries to get us out of the ditch,” he told Robert Costa.

McConnell has no right to say that about himself. He has engaged in as much obstructionism as the worst of them, and his ideas are partly responsible for bringing Republicans to their current state of disarray.

The senator from Kentucky was the original naysayer. Soon after President Obama’s election, McConnell instructed Republicans to oppose Obama at every opportunity. The goal appears to have been to make sure that the country was chaotically governed for four years so that the president would not win a second term. “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” McConnell said. “If he was for it, we had to be against it,” former Sen. George Voinovich (R-Oh.) told Mike Grunwald. McConnell “wanted everyone to hold the fort. All he cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory.”

This is the kind of dealmaker McConnell is. He will make a deal or put a halt to legislative action altogether, depending where he believes the political advantage lies.

It also seems that McConnell’s strategy of opposition has seriously damaged his party’s ability to develop and propose their own original ideas. Conservatives do have plenty of good ideas, but when constructive legislating is off the table for electoral reasons, it’s easy to speculate that legislators and their staffs will devote less time and fewer resources to thinking about those ideas — how to implement them and how to include them as part of a complete legislative agenda. It does seem clear that the Republicans in the House are simply taking their cue from McConnell, even though he chides them for their ineffectiveness in his interview with Costa. It was McConnell who first declared uniform opposition to be the mark of loyal conservatism.

When a party has no ideas of its own, negotiations become impossible. The cause of the most recent crisis was that Republicans had no positive demands to offer — no new policies they wanted to see enacted. They could only offer negative ones — existing policies they wanted postponed or terminated, specifically, the health care law — which, of course, Democrats did not accept. Had there been a positive, thoughtful G.O.P. agenda, Democrats could have conceded one or more of its elements, allowing Republicans to save face without engaging in brinksmanship and perhaps even implementing a worthwhile program or two.

McConnell insisted on putting politics before policy, which is exactly the kind of thinking that has crippled his party. He can be credited for rescuing Republicans, but only from his own mistakes.


By: Max Ehrenfreund, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 19, 2013

October 21, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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