Has President Obama Gone to Great Lengths to Get Republican Support?

There’s a recurring theme that I’ve been seeing lately from left blogosphere bloggers and commenters with a similar viewpoint. It doesn’t ring true to me but I’ve got an open mind and am willing to listen to the case. Essentially, it goes something like this. President Obama has gone to extraordinary lengths, bent over backwards, to compromise with obstinate Congressional Republicans. The manifest weaknesses of the various pieces of major legislation and the present enthusiasm gap are consequences of this futile effort

As far as I can see this notion relies on a sort of post hoc propter hoc sort of logic. President Obama faces opposition from the Republicans. The legislation are nasty hashes, pleasing no one. Consequently, the legislation is the result of President Obama’s willingness to compromise with Congressional Republicans.

Frankly, I don’t see it. From the early days of his administration in which it was noted that elections have consequences through the rapid passage of the stimulus package and the torturous deliberations over the healthcare reform bill, I think a different dynamics was in operation. In the case of the stimulus package President Obama got exactly what he wanted, something he said repeatedly.

In the case of healthcare reform I think that President Obama left the details of the law to the experts, in this case Congressional Democrats, who had views, drives, and agenda of their own. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

I can also think of a couple of other explanations but they’re even less charitable. I must say I also find the idea that what was achieved was what was politically possible fantastical. What was passed was passed with scarcely a Republican vote. This is what was politically possible?

As I say, I have an open mind. Can someone make the case that President Obama has gone to extraordinary lengths to enlist the support of the Congressional Republican leadership to me? Not a few lonely Republican outliers like Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe—pursuit of their votes is clearly a figleaf, an attempt to make something appear to have bipartisan support which in actuality has nothing of the sort. And not Congressional moderates, the “Blue Dogs”—that’s an intra-party squabble and it doesn’t support the case at all.

Youth wants to know.

24 comments… add one
  • Drew Link

    C’mon, now. Be reasonable. See it MY way………

  • chirp

  • steve Link

    On health care, they basically adopted the Republican plan, plus some Romneycare, of the 90s. They practically lost the ability to pass reform while they spent months dicking around with the Gang of 6. There were reports, hard to verify, that he offered Republicans tort reform if they supported the bill. No go.

    Obama has dropped following up on torture. I suspect that this is to avoid congressional warfare. Gitmo was conceded to the Republicans. Financial reform was watered down to try to get a Republican vote, but Corker backed out.

    I am not sure these are extraordinary efforts. It looks to me as though Obama starts out with a fairly moderate plan, then does not budge that much. OTOH, the election politics for Republicans compromising on anything were never good for any Republican. What would they get out of it other than a primary challenge?


  • john personna Link

    We’d need a tell-all from someone inside the White House, someone who could say what signals they were getting and sending at the time.

    I’m not sure what a President can do when the minority party announces that they will withhold support en masse. Call them up and say “please don’t do that?”

    When this kind of thing has worked in the past the minority part was interested in solutions, and being in part of them. They hadn’t taken it as a party strategy to be overridden, and then to complain later (now).

    You want to know what’s really sad? That’s still the plan. Get elected again and promise “gridlock.”

    What should the President do, call them up and point out that gridlock isn’t really a solution to our nation’s problems? Like, can they honestly not know that?

  • Jeff Medcalf Link

    Oh, come on! He hasn’t been machinegunning Republicans in the streets. How much more accommodating can you expect him to be?

  • You want to know what’s really sad? That’s still the plan. Get elected again and promise “gridlock.”

    What should the President do, call them up and point out that gridlock isn’t really a solution to our nation’s problems? Like, can they honestly not know that?

    What you think economic policy is about achieving some optimal state or even an improvement over the current state? Seriously?

  • Drew Link


    C’mon. The proposition is preposterous on its face.


  • PD Shaw Link

    Let’s see, there was a bi-partisan bill called Wyden-Bennett and then Obama called it radical, liberals said there was no real bi-partisan support behind it, and the unions attacked it.


  • PD Shaw Link

    steve, you are merely claiming that Obama has capitulated on points, not that he has gone through extraordinary lengths to engage in bipartisanship.

  • steve Link

    PD- I am saying he has started in the middle and then not moved very much. Why that is so I dont really know. The Republicans claim they were shut out. The Democrats say they offered compromise. Who is telling the truth? The only solid fact I know for sure on health care is that they did spend months waiting for the Gang of 6. Why did they do that if they had no intention of having any input? Why risk nearly losing the bill like they did?


  • steve Link

    PD- You think all of the Republican sponsors backing out on Wyden-Bennett might have been a factor?


  • steve Link

    Here is a hint. What happened to Bob Bennett? We can speculate about who talked with whom. We have definitive proof of what happened to Republicans who associated with Democrats.


  • Andy Link


    Here’s my analysis:

    1. Obama was genuinely interested in compromise.
    2. Congressional Democrats (meaning the leadership) weren’t much interested in compromise.
    3. Obama, seeking to avoid the mistakes of the Clinton health care failure deferred to Congressional Democrats on major issues.
    4. Republicans, having failed to live up to their stated principles during the Bush years, and threatened by the Tea Party, retrenched and refused to endorse policies they previously endorsed. Politically, and in hindsight, this was quite astute on their part given the primary threat to any Republican who supported what people perceived as Obama’s initiatives.
    5. All the above was exacerbated by a general uncompromising attitude as demonstrated by each party over the last few years attempting to remove heretics through the primary’s. This is ongoing – see the recent calls to excommunicate the “blue dogs” from the Democratic party which is the most recent example.

    I think absent the recession, which moved most of Congress (of both parties) toward the “base,” Obama’s efforts at compromise would have been more successful. As it stands, I think he is probably the wrong President at the wrong time – I don’t thing compromisers historically do well in the current environment. This increased polarization reduced his influence with Congress among both parties, and, by influence, I mean his ability to lead and steer policy. I think he talks the talk, but has not had the initiative since the stimulus was passed, which left Congressional Democrats driving the bus and the leadership there is decidedly liberal. Had there not been a great recession I think Obama’s efforts at compromise would have had a reasonable chance for success and things might have been much different.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Which came first Steve, Obama calling the plan radical or Republicans backing out? I think the chronology is Obama attacking the plan (7/1/2009) and Republican moderates reiterating their support for it (8/5/2009). It’s quite possible that Obama made it easy for moderate Republicans to support the bill without consequences, but what actually did Obama ever do to promote a bi-partisan bill?

  • Andy Link

    And this Jon Stewart piece on DADT illustrates the typical parliamentary douchebaggery (which our “news” media doesn’t really cover) preventing passage of a whole variety of otherwise popular policies.

  • john personna Link

    “What you think economic policy is about achieving some optimal state or even an improvement over the current state? Seriously?”

    Did you just say economic policy is not about improving the current state? Seriously?

  • john personna Link

    Btw, if my irony meter was broken again, sorry. I’ve been watching a round-up of closing political ads. They’ve left me questioning if anyone is running on solving problems.

  • No, they’re all running on making the other party fail. It’s so much easier.

  • Maxwell James Link

    Guess it was Shoot From the Hip day at the Eye. I’m a bit late, but I agree with steve and Andy: Obama has tried, but I would not call his efforts extraordinary. steve is exactly right in that what he does is try to pick out the “centrist” position, accounting for a complex interplay of Dem activist interests, union interests, Blue Dog interests, and finally Republican interests, and not budge much from there.

    I happen to think he’s sincere, but extremely wrongheaded. It would be much better to start from a much more radical position (such as Wyden-Bennett with a public option attached) and offer much greater flexibility in compromising. But that would be out of character for him, and most politicians.

  • Sam Link

    The parts of the bill that could have made it better would also have been it’s most unpopular and it’s silly to expect Republicans to get on board in return for unpopular stuff. Lower Cadillac tax threshold for one (remember McCain campaigned on a 0 threshold with a credit) – this would have driven many people out of work sponsored health plans. On the other hand, now that Republicans have made it a talking point against Obamacare we’ll probably never be able to see it. It was a good idea until THEY had it.

  • Mark Link

    I think Andy nailed it in the comments above. The President may personally may have been interested in compromising with Republicans, but he deferred to Congressional Democrats who were unwilling to compromise. As I recall, during the “bipartisan” summit on healthcare Senator McCain complained about all the back room deals in the bill (such as the special Medicare funding for seniors in Florida, Kansas & Louisiana to the detriment of seniors in the other 47 states). To which the President agreed and acknowledge that Senator McCain was making a good point. However, even after acknowledging Senator McCain’s point, the President did not demand that Congressional Democrats compromise with Republicans. IMO, this is the Presidents biggest failure and the reason independents have not supported the healthcare bill.

  • john personna Link

    Bill Gross’ Investment Letter seems worth reading:

    They say a country gets the politicians it deserves or perhaps it deserves the politicians it gets. Whatever the order, America is next in line, and as we go to the polls in a few short days it’s incumbent upon a sleepy and befuddled electorate to at least ask ourselves, “What’s going on here?” Democrat or Republican, Elephant or Donkey, nothing much ever seems to change. Each party has shown it can add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt with little to show for it or move our military from one country to the next chasing phantoms instead of focusing on more serious problems back home. This isn’t a choice between chocolate and vanilla folks, it’s all rocky road: a few marshmallows to get you excited before the election, but with a lot of nuts to ruin the aftermath


  • Did you just say economic policy is not about improving the current state? Seriously?

    Every politician says that it is, but I’m dubious. I don’t think the PPACA will do much to improve things over the current state. I don’t think the stimulus will either in the end–I think it will raise our risk, significantly of a fiscal crisis and seriously hamper our ability to deal with future crises. I don’t think the long history of private profits/public losses was a good strategy either.

    I look at the public pension system in California and I think that such a claim (moving to a point where everyone is either better off or no worse off) is as Andy put it, douchebaggery. I think even in the end the public employees hoping to collect on those pensions will be worse off because that which cannot be sustained is not–i.e. down the road despite what the courts, politicians and everyone says when the system collapses it collapses. A court order wont stop that.

    You’ve come close yourself by calling it looting. It is. It is looting by the politicians and various too big to fail corporations. Currently it is the finance industry, the auto industry and even to some extent construction/real estate. In the past we’ve seen it with other industries like defense contractors.

    And no, contrary to what Michael Reynolds believe, you cannot just keep right on raising taxes. After a certain point you are going to reduce taxable economic activity. Raise it high enough you could even stop it altogether. There are limits, problem is that with voting and looting combined there is not mechanism to stop the process from going past those limits. The solution isn’t giving more power to politicians since they are in on the game (on the other side I might add, damn few of them come away from politics in the same economic strata they were in when they entered). The solution is, as the line went in a rather old movie now, the only way to win is to not play the game.

    You can keep looking for your Cincinnatus, for the right system of rules, etc. but I think you’ll just end up dying disappointed because a Cincinnatus is only good if he holds power for a short time and is extremely rare. Trying to come up with the right rules for the people who make the rules is just foolishness. Do you really want to play monopoly with me where I Drew and I can make up the rules and I get to be the banker?

    If we assume the following are true:

    1. Obama was genuinely interested in compromise.
    2. Congressional Democrats (meaning the leadership) weren’t much interested in compromise.
    3. Obama, seeking to avoid the mistakes of the Clinton health care failure deferred to Congressional Democrats on major issues.

    The implication is that Obama made few if any real overtures in regards to “bi-partisanship”.


    If Obama does makes a real overture of bi-partisanship he would violate condition 3 which was assumed to be true.

  • john personna Link

    I’ve been a fan of pragmatism since before it was cool. (I can’t remember who did the anti-pragmatist piece at OTB.) I just heard Joe S., on Morning Joe calling for the same thing, and putting the lack of it all on Obama.

    I shouldn’t care how we get there. I should concentrate on the goal.

    Still, it rankles after a year of spoiler politics to hear that. What, is the meme that there were moderate waiting there at the alter? Where and when?

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