Getting ready to face a divided Congress, President Barack Obama intends to lay out his ambitious agenda for 2014 with little support in the House and not much more in the Senate. Holding on by only six seats, the consequences of the looming Midterm elections could rob the president of what’s left of any leverage in the Senate, instead making him the earliest lame duck in U.S. history. What makes Obama’s circumstance so tragic is that he started in 2008 with what was advertised as “hope” regarding a new era of post-partisanship, where all sides found the common ground doing what’s right for the country. While that seems like pie-in-the-sky, hope sprang eternal for ending Washington’s bitter partisan divide with the nation’s first black president. When the GOP watched Obama’s presidency hijacked by Democratic Party bosses imposing national health care, bipartisanship crashed-and-burned.
White House officials argue that right wing extremists would never accept Obama’s agenda so why try. Reaching out to the other side hasn’t been easy for the 52-year-old Harvard Law grad, whose national legislative experience was framed by only four short years in the Senate. Obama’s July 27, 2004 dazzling keynote speech at Democratic National Convention in Boston’s Fleet Center literally propelled him from obscurity into the Oval Office Jan. 20, 2009. Groomed for the job by the most sophisticated media handlers led by his chief strategist David Axelrod, Obama was packaged better than Tony-the-Tiger, beating Hillary Rodham Clinton and her political machine en route to the White House. What Hillary said about Obama during the campaign proved true: That he was too inexperienced, unfamiliar with Washington’s ways to get anything done.
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set his agenda for national health care it spelled doom for his presidency. Just as former President George W. Bush allowed Vice President Dick Cheney to start a disastrous war in Iraq, Obama allowed Pelosi and Reid to bring the battlefield to Capitol Hill. Euphoric over landing a Democratic House and Senate in 2008, Obama lost sight over fulfilling his No. 1 promise of a post-partisan presidency. Signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law March 23, 2010, Obama sealed his fate as failed president, unable to get anything done on the Hill. Now Obama plans to announce in his State-of-the-Union Speech that he intends to bypass the House and Senate and advance his agenda via “executive powers,” stiffening the GOP’s resolve to fight Obama on virtually everything.
Gone are the days when Obama can simply wow his audience with high-minded rhetoric. His lack of savvy working with key Republicans on Capitol Hill has made his agenda more irrelevant as Democrats and Republicans jockey for control of Congress this Fall. “What you’ll hear in the speech tonight is very concrete, realistic proposals as it relates to wages, as it relates to education, as it relates to training, high-tech manufacturing, retirement security, those are things that he’s focused on,” said White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. White House officials know full well that without GOP cooperation of Capitol Hill it’s doubtful anything can get done. Last year’s speech fell on deaf ears, forcing the president to go out on the stump to push his agenda. With his approval ratings at 43%, Barack’s run out of friendly places to put more pressure on Congress.
Pushing for an increase for the federal minimum wage won’t change GOP opposition to promoting an already unfriendly businesses atmosphere to small and medium sized businesses. While Obamacare delivered health care to some of the uninsured population, it hasn’t lower overall costs to businesses and private individuals. Allowing companies to pass employer-based health care costs to the government wasn’t the intent of the Affordable Care Act but it’s now part of the fallout. Since there’s no bipartisan cooperation on the Hill, there’s not way to fix some of the worst loopholes and abuses with Obamacare. “It comes down to economic issues,” said Andy Smith, director of University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center, suggesting that Obama wins on that front. While the economy’s certainly doing better than it was under Bush, that doesn’t change the White House’s failed ways with Congress.
Spewing platitudes won’t change Washington’s toxic partisan atmosphere, nor will threatening to use “executive powers,” bypassing Congress to advance the White House agenda. Riding 43% approval ratings isn’t that bad when you consider the number only dropped 7% since the 2012 election. When you consider the botched rollout of Obamacare Oct. 1, 2013, it’s possible for Obama to start rebounding again as long as he makes a good faith effort to engage Republicans on Capitol Hill. Recent comments from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about how Obamacare was worth it no matter what the costs only make the president’s job harder. Miscalculations based on inexperience early on in his first term have cost Obama precious political capital. He won’t win too many friends or influence folks if he threatens to used “executive powers” to advance his agenda.
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.