Did Barack Obama compromise on health reform, or did he “shove Obamacare down Republicans’ throats”? Did he refuse to listen to Republicans on the stimulus with an arrogant “we won” attitude, or did he incorporate Republican ideas into legislation they wouldn’t vote for? It’s a long-running argument that has just taken a turn.
The newly-reelected Obama has changed tactics in how he negotiates with Congress. He presented a fiscal cliff proposal to Republicans — they’ve put forward no proposal of their own — that John Boehner immediately denounced as “loaded with Democratic priorities.” That would include exactly the things Obama promised in the campaign: higher taxes on the wealthy, investments in infrastructure, and a more careful approach to spending cuts and entitlements.
Other Republicans were similarly outraged that there were no Republican priorities in Obama’s proposal. Mitch McConnell laughed out loud. Joe Scarborough fumed on MSNBC. Pundits sniffed that Obama had committed some kind of faux pas, that he had some test of magnanimity.
Four years ago, a more magnanimous Obama put $300 billion in tax cuts into the stimulus Republicans supposedly favored, and begged Republicans for their spending wish-lists. He pre-emptively dropped the health reform proposal he ran on in the primaries, embracing Romney and Clinton’s individual mandate and rejecting the public option. He tried to figure out what would be a reasonable compromise between his goals and the goals of the opposition, and he proposed it. The tactic didn’t work, either legislatively or politically. He didn’t win over GOP votes, and they slammed him for being dictatorial.
Faced with the same situation, he’s now trying something different.
Obama has made it clear these are not non-negotiable demands. But this time he has chosen to advocate for his priorities, not the Republicans’ priorities. If they want deeper cuts in entitlement and spending, let them say what they are. If they want to reduce deductions, close loopholes and reduce rates, let them figure out how to do it. The old Obama would have tried to incorporate their goals into his program, only to have it be rejected by them.Not this time.
Will it work? I have no idea. But Obama is emboldened by the election results. He knows he’s got the electorate behind him on the issues, and that the more the Republicans cling to positions voters have rejected, the more they paint themselves into corners that more savvy GOP leaders know they must escape.
This should be interesting to watch.