Pointing fingers at the GOP, President Barack Obama couldn’t stop the so-called “sequester,” $85 billion in automatic government spending cuts going into effect. Unable persuade House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to play ball, Obama showed why playing politics in a two-party system can backfire. Taking his campaign to the public, Barack tried to circumvent the Republican-controlled House, hell-bent of slashing government spending. While the March 1 deadline came and went, the president must sit idly by watching federal workers and government contractors tossed into unemployment. What the president doesn’t get is that blaming Republicans doesn’t get the deal. Only placating GOP interests—including the obsession with shrinking the size of government—can open the door for some compromise, no matter how far away the deal-making concessions.
When it came to solving the “fiscal cliff” Jan. 1, Obama won tax concessions from Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kt.), increasing taxes on individuals making over $450,000 a year. “The question is, can the American people help persuade members of Congress to do the right thing,” said Barack on Friday, admitting that the spending cuts were going into effect. Instead of persuading the public to lobby Congress, Obama needs to work harder on developing relationships with GOP leaders in the House and Senate. Without some sort of relationship, there’s little that can get done over the next four years. More attention to developing relationships would pay rich dividends over lobbying the public to write their elected officials. Whether the president likes it or not, he still has to play ball with Republicans if he wants to get any legislative agenda passed through Congress.
When famed Washington investigative journalist Bob Woodward accused the White House last week of intimidation when he wrote an op-ed blaming Obama for the “sequester,” it didn’t fit with Obama’s narrative: Democrats are good and Republicans are bad. White House officials wanted to heap as much blame on Republicans for allowing the “sequester” to take place. Had Barack gone to Boehner and said he’d like to reduce the spending cuts without expecting more taxes, he probably would have had a receptive audience. Given the unwillingness of the White House to deal with GOP in the House and Senate, it’s no wonder there’s so much gridlock. Whether or not GOP policies fit the White House agenda, Barack still needs to keep the doors open. It serves no one to take the position that the GOP only takes extreme positions to antagonize the White House.
Barack’s failure to avoid the “sequester” that could cost thousands of government jobs stems from a false belief that he won the election and the people expect him to advance his agenda. As long as the two-party system prevails in Washington, the ruling Party must go out of its way to get along and compromise. If the White House wants to get the House leadership to buy in to new spending plans, they need to present current economic data—known to the Congressional Budget Office—that indicates that the spending cuts are no longer needed to balance the budget. What’s most tragic about the spending cuts are the very job losses. Sparing federally funded jobs is a worthy goal of the White House but it must be done the right way. Showing Congressional Republicans more respect would go a long way in creating the kind of bipartisanship needed to do the peoples’ work.
Blaming the GOP as obstructionist worked before the election but it’s backfired in the “sequester” talks. Letting more federal workers lose jobs before the midterm election in 2014 isn’t the best way to seek compromise on federal spending. Presenting the CBO’s best data to justify changing the “sequester” is the best way to proceed. Cutting $85 billion out of the budget won’t help economic growth, where heft government spending is needed to stimulate the economy. One of leftover fallacies from the 2008 campaign involved the idea that the private sector could accommodate all the employment needed to spur the economy. Employing over 2 million citizens is a small fraction of total government contracting helping employ millions more in defense, agriculture, oil and technology industries, all expecting and receiving government grants to boost employment.
Obama’s pitch to the GOP in Congress can’t be “I won the election so give me a blank check to do what I want.” Working through Republican leadership in the House and Senate, Obama can foster a more accommodating atmosphere to break the gridlock that makes getting anything done next to impossible. Some GOP elected officials see the spending cuts as “fiscal sanity” and “a big victory” for the GOP. Admitting that he can’t stop the spending cuts by himself, Obama conceded he has limited power on his own. “What more do you think I should do,” Barack asked reporters last Friday. He knows he must try to reach across the aisle, build relationships and try to accommodate the opposing Party’s demands. Taking his case to the public is exactly the opposite way to encourage the GOP to play ball. Only by talking more, building relationships and making concessions can the president hope to get results.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.