Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be

MISSING: The Heel-Dragging Republicans of Congress – Why President Obama Won’t Take Them Down

Why aren’t Democrats asking dairies to put John Boehner’s picture on milk cartons? Billboards with Mitch McConnell’s face “Have you seen me?” Somehow, Republican Teahadis and their intransigence have gone strangely missing in the first two presidential debates.  Why?

Just one in ten Americans think that the Congress is doing a good job, according to Gallup. There are convicted serial killers with higher likability ratings.[1]

From 2008-2010 the minority party used its filibuster powers in the senate, and threatened conservative so-called “Blue Dog “Democrats with extinction to slow down any Democratic achievement in 2008-2009. By 2010, the Teahadis, led in  name by House Speaker John Boehner, in fact by his deputy, Evan Cantor,  and  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put the Congress into complete gridlock, not to do the people’s business, but as pure political brinksmanship.

Yet the only mention that the much-loathed Congress has received thus far in either of the two debates has been this one exchange between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan:

“RYAN: You know, I understand you guys aren’t used to doing bipartisan deals…

BIDEN: But we told each other what we’re going to do.

RYAN: Republicans and Democrats…

BIDEN: When we did it Reagan, he said, here — here are the things we’re going to cut.


BIDEN: That’s what he said.

RYAN: We said here’s the framework, let’s work together to fill in the details. That’s exactly…

BIDEN: Fill in the detail.

RYAN: That’s how you get things done. You work with Congress — look, let me say it this way.


BIDEN: That’s coming from a Republican Congress working bipartisanly, 7 percent rating? Come on.

RYAN: Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, where 87 percent of the legislators he served, which were Democrats. He didn’t demonize them. He didn’t demagogue them. He met with those party leaders every week. He reached across the aisle. He didn’t compromise principles.

BIDEN: And you saw what happened.

RYAN: He found common ground — and he balanced the budget…

BIDEN: You saw — if he did such a great job…

RADDATZ: Mr. Vice President…


RYAN: … four times without raising taxes…

BIDEN: Why isn’t he even contesting Massachusetts?” [2]

Ryan and Romney have been appealing to ignorance and popular amnesia of the American voter.

When Ryan says: “You know, I understand you guys aren’t used to doing bipartisan deals…” he is hoping that Americans have forgotten the criticism that President Obama received for being too obliging to Republicans, and trying too hard to get consensus.

Pundits around the nation took Mr. Obama to task for attempting bi-partisanship. As HuffPo contributor Robert Borosage put it in January of 2009:

“Politically, Obama’s generosity is unlikely to be rewarded. The congressional Republican caucus is more conservative and clueless than ever. They will see Obama’s pe-emptive concessions as weakness, not generosity. They are already pocketing them and asking for more. Boehner is grousing about “the size of the package” Mitch McConnell responded by calling for more tax cuts and peddling the lunatic notion that rather than providing grants to states and localities to avoid massive layoffs — perhaps the most effective dollar for dollar spending that we can do in terms of saving jobs — the federal government should loan them the money instead. Republicans don’t want unemployment insurance to go to part-time workers, and oppose paying for health care for those who have been laid off. They are pushing for permanent reductions in capital gains and income tax rates for — imagine our surprise — business and the highest income earners. These are the very ideas that helped get us into this hole.”

In January, 2010, President Obama even went to the rare bipartisan step of attending  a Republican retreat to speak to the meeting and try to speak one-on-one with the GOP politicians at the meeting:

Republicans have engaged in the most bald-faced shameless partisan hackery to infect the Congress since the days of Reconstruction.  This Mitch McConnell classic is a GOP mantra:

As I pointed out to you in 2011 Republican Congress and GOP-controlled state legislatures promised jobs, jobs, jobs, but the Tea Party ran little but their radical social agenda.   Completely ignorant of how government finance works, even when the Speaker brought in a team from the Congressional Budget Office to explain it to them, the Teahadis backed John Boehner into a corner.

The Teahadis forced Speaker Boehner to walk away from trillions in tax cuts, and meaningful Medicare and “big government” reform that Obama had put on the table, at the peril of angering his own base and political allies:

“Mr. Obama said Mr. Boehner had stopped returning his calls when it became clear that rank-and-file House Republicans would not agree to raise revenues on wealthy Americans as part of a debt-reduction deal, despite Mr. Obama’s concessions on reducing future spending forMedicareMedicaid and Social Security.”[3]

Even the highly dogmatic, allegedly “grass roots” Tea Party movement proved not to be so monolithic.

“I wanted it over, one way or the other, because of the impact it would have had on the stock market,” said Dan Prosser, 60, a consultant and a Tea Party supporter in Texas. “I thought they were playing with my future.” [4]

One might ask, then, why Team Obama has taken the hit from Republicans repeatedly on the outrageous BIG LIE that they didn’t seek bipartisanship, or that they failed to work with Republicans.

The answer may rest with Mr. Obama’s history with the Congress, and the future of the debt ceiling.

The “Grand Bargain” as the Obama-Boehner talks became known, may be a bell-ringer after all.  From deep within its media-assigned tomb, it lives.  There was a vast blueprint on fundamentally restructuring both revenue and expenditures that came within a hare’s breadth of realization.

The black-and-white finger pointing that the media uses to turn politics into ESPN-like highlights reels belies a much more complex and nuanced discussion which Matt Bai captures in an outstanding behind-the-scenes history in his March, 2012 New York Times Magazine piece:

“[W]hile both leaders had profound reservations about a grand bargain that would threaten their parties’ priorities, what’s undeniable, despite all the furious efforts to peddle a different story, is that Obama managed to persuade his closest allies to sign off on what he wanted them to do, and Boehner didn’t, or couldn’t. While Democratic leaders were willing to swallow either a deal with more revenue or a deal with less, Boehner’s theoretical counteroffer, which probably reflected what he would have done if empowered to act alone, never even got a hearing from his leadership team.”

Mr. Obama is running for a second term, which, by law, is his last.  Presidents run for a second term to finish what they start, to produce something of meaning and substance that will be remembered after the partisan bickering ends.  Republicans hated Bill Clinton and tied him in knots with investigations and Limbaughian Blitz-like air assaults 24/7.  Today he is remembered for prosperity and a budget surplus, not Whitewater or Monica Lewinsky.

As much as it would please liberal partisans for Obama to lash out at the Teahadis, the reality is that only a few of them will be unseated in 2012.  Mr. Boehner will still be there.  More important, Mr. Cantor, the Bin Laden of the Teahadi hordes, who really holds the power to get the votes needed to do a deal, will still be there.

What we’re not being told as we roil with election fever, is that whomever wins is racing at top speed towards the fiscal cliff like Thelma & Louise.  They will have less than eight weeks to do the deal to come up with meaningful reform and avoid some automatic triggers that will provide painful cuts into both Democratic and Republican sacred cows.

All bets on the future of the economy and the debt deal rest on November.

If Mr. Romney wins, the Teahadis will roll him like a Boston bum, and do their own deal to slash government and give the wealthy a capital gains haircut to zero.

If Mr. Obama wins, the framework of the grand bargain exists. He will have a new lay of the land politically, and, based upon where reality of electoral math in the Congress leaves him, he will have to resurrect the grand bargain in some form.

Ryan, the only Congressman in the fight, had his fifteen minutes. He’s running for re-election for his House seat. Smart move. He and the Obama team both seem to believe that there is enough in Romney’s own self-destructive campaign habits to make him unlikeable enough with 47% or more of the electorate for Mr. Obama to squeeze past him in November.  An election providing either candidate any mandate is unlikely.

So the GOP as a whole gets a walk.  While it may not please liberals, it may keep tempers low enough to get a budget deal done before both parties irreparably damage the full faith and credit of the most wealthy and powerful nation on Earth and take the rest of the world’s economies over the cliff with us as we hit the accelerator.

My shiny two.

About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian, filmmaker and chef. Ad hoc, ad loc, quid pro quo... so little time. So much to know!

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