Are the chances for bi-partisanship real or imagined
Before we proceed today, let’s take note of a couple of things.
One, President Obama has made an executive decision to freeze federal payrolls for 2 years at a savings of $5 billion over those two years. Good for him. Of course the left is outraged, disingenuously claiming this will adversely effect jobs and the economy. Hardly.
While that money won’t be available to be spent by federal employees, it won’t be borrowed either. Or, it won’t be taken from the pockets of taxpayers who can now spend it directly on creating jobs or buying goods.
"Saving" the money doesn’t make it disappear, it simply means federal employees won’t be spending it (those who earned it will) or we don’t add $5 billion to the deficits of those 2 years.
Bigger political question? Is this actually an act of triangulation? Are we seeing this as the first indicator of an administration attempting to move to the center by getting out in front of the GOP on something? Doing this before the big bi-partisan meet today between Obama and the GOP gives Obama the advantage of saying "OK, I’ve done something to reduce the deficit, what about you" (to which the GOP can say "earmarks"). Whether this is a political anomaly, just gimmickry or an actual move toward the center remain to be seen.
And two, on the GOP side, and in front of the meeting today, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell got their talking points out in an op/ed in the Washington Post. In sum they say the overwhelming message from the election says focus on jobs and the economy.
Perhaps the most important paragraph in the piece was this:
Despite what some Democrats in Congress have suggested, voters did not signal they wanted more cooperation on the Democrats’ big-government policies that most Americans oppose. On the contrary, they want both parties to work together on policies that will help create the conditions for private-sector job growth. They want us to stop the spending binge, cut the deficit and send a clear message on taxes and regulations so small businesses can start hiring again.
I think that’s mostly right. Cooperation for cooperation’s sake isn’t what is being demanded. Cooperation with a focus on jobs and the economy is. And it is also clear, as Boehner and McConnell state, that the American public wants some sort of workable plan to stop the huge deficit spending and to settle the business climate to the point that corporations and small businesses feel confident enough in it to begin hiring and expanding again. That means settling any number of outstanding issues like proposed tax increases.
Bottom line? Don’t expect much cooperation from either side on things like energy, immigration, health care and the like except at the very margins. However, there seems to be some signaling from Obama that he may be interested in more substantial cooperation when it comes to the jobs, economy and government spending/taxation. If so, it would mean that Obama has set his cap for reelection in 2012 and believes that this is the route to accomplishing that (engage the GOP, give a little here and there, do high profile things like freeze government worker pay, and hope the economy and unemployment improve fairly significantly in the next 2 years so he can claim credit).
My guess is he now realizes that his agenda items are DOA. But I also think he’s satisfied that what he has managed to get passed (ObamaCare and the like) is probably pretty safe from GOP meddling. So he’s defining the area in which he’ll work and essentially demanding the GOP cooperate. It will be difficult for the GOP to refuse that.
It is going to be interesting to watch the two sides maneuver over the next two years. In ‘94 much the same sort of situation existed. Bill Clinton was deemed irrelevant. He came roaring back via smart politics and GOP mistakes to be reelected easily.
We’ve already talked about the new narrative the left is trying to impose – the “GOP in charge” narrative, in which the GOP will be tagged with every failure of government even though Democrats still control the Senate and Executive branch. But that won’t matter if the GOP House moves aggressively to do what Boehner and McConnell outline in their op/ed. Make Democratic Senators defeat GOP House legislation. And if it manages to get through the Senate, make Obama veto it.
Obama claimed that the difference between ‘94 and ‘10 midterms was “you’ve got me”. That led to the worst “shellacking” in recent memory and much worse that ‘94. Another difference between ‘94 and ‘10 is the new media. If the GOP sticks with its guns, makes every attempt to carry out what it said is the people’s message and is thwarted by the Democrats, that story will actually be told.
It will indeed be interesting to see how the big meeting goes today. I don’t expect much in terms of substance, but if Boehner and McConnell are smart they’ll essentially relay their op/ed message to Obama and then stand back and see how he chooses to react.
For the moment, popular sentiment is on the side of the GOP. They need to retain it by actually doing something. If they don’t and the left succeeds in painting them in a negative way, 2012 could see the backlash from hell, 4 more years of Obama and possible Congressional gains by Democrats.