GOP embraces Obama, fingers crossed

The strategy is to not obstruct while hoping he and Democrats self-destruct.


Thomas Schaller
January 23, 2009 7:46PM (UTC)

Piggybacking on the post below about conservative punditry strategy vis-à-vis Obama, the Washington Independent's Dave Wiegel has a good piece out today exploring how Capitol Hill Republicans and their lobbyist allies plan to deal with the new Obama era:

House Republicans are in unfamiliar and politically unpromising territory. Unlike their counterparts in the Senate, they have very few methods of slowing down or stopping legislation they don’t like. Their influence was reduced two weeks ago by a rule change that effectively prevents members of the minority party from forcing votes on controversial amendments, one of the few cudgels the party had in the House.

In response, Republicans are attempting to link themselves to the popular Obama administration while criticizing the work of the Democratic Congress. The goal is to oppose Democratic policy without being seen as opposing or obstructing the president, a posture that, they hope, will put them in better position to win back voters if the Democrats’ popularity falters.

Republican sources . . . did not deny that the portrayal of Obama as a working partner and the congressional Democrats as obstinate partisans was a reflection of the popularity of the two branches. The new president boasts approval ratings north of 70 percent; the Congress is mired in the 30s. “His message is bipartisanship,” said one Republican, referring to the president. “Their message is ‘trust us to spend your money.’”

. . . On January 14 members of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House, introduced an Economic Recovery and Middle-Class Tax Relief Act which included cutting income tax rates by 5 percent, partially repealing the capital gains tax, and slashing corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent. Cantor’s ad hoc group held one hearing, on January 15, in which Mitt Romney, former eBay executive (and Romney/McCain economic adviser) Meg Whitman, AEI’s Alex Brill, and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform fielded friendly questions, with answers mirroring the content of the going-nowhere tax bill. . .

“We should not treat Obama, Reid, and Pelosi, the way that the Bush administration treated Iran-’You’re a bad person and we don’t want to talk to you,’” said Norquist. “We engage the Democrats by being cheerful and pleasant and open to conversation. They say they want 10 ideas? OK, here are 10 ideas. The next time they say they want 10 ideas, we say that they asked before, and, just for the record, they rejected our ideas. When you get to May, who’s the obstructionist and who’s the collaborator?”

These guys are on their heels. Their strategy is reactive, and relies on the hope of failure and the possibility that their own bad ideas and policy alternatives will somehow be vindicated by continuing economic troubles or administration stumbles.

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In a sense, this is not a bad strategy, if only because it is for now the one sensible strategy available. But the fact that passive, silent, fingers-crossed hopes for Obama/Democratic failure is the best GOP option confirms just how dramatically the partisan-ideological tables have turned in just four short years.


Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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