Here’s a novel idea for congressional Republicans: faced with the blame for nearly three years of legislative gridlock, claim that the real fault lies with…President Obama?
Here’s Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on the Senate floor Tuesday. “The second reason the White House didn’t send these agreements up sooner is that the political operators over at the White House seem to believe that they benefit from the appearance of gridlock,” McConnell said. “They’re over there telling any reporter who will listen that they plan to run against Congress next year. Their Communications Director said as much to the New York Times two weeks ago. So that’s their explicit strategy — to make people believe that Congress can’t get anything done.
And how do you make sure of it? By proposing legislation you know the other side won’t support — even when there’s an entire menu of bipartisan proposals the President could choose to pursue instead. The President can govern as though this is the congress he wants or he can deal with the congress he has. Along the first path lies gridlock and along the second lies the kind of legislative progress Americans want. And as for Republicans, well, we’ve been crystal clear from the outset that we prefer the latter route.
The history of Obama’s first two years in office is one of introducing legislative efforts that had a history of bipartisan support — in some cases strong bipartisan support — and watching as Republicans fairly quickly consolidated opposition to all of them. The stimulus bill was a mixture of spending initiatives and temporary tax cuts. Obama’s health care bill was basically Romneycare. The list goes on.
This was part of a deliberate strategy, as McConnell himself admitted to The Atlantic. “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”
We’re seeing the same thing play out with the jobs bill, which, to be sure, was introduced with the expectation that Republicans would quickly unify in opposition to it, but is nonetheless comprised of legislative proposals just about all of which have bipartisan imprimatur.
McConnell’s as sly as they come, and his statement is typically clever. But looking back, it’s pretty silly to claim that Obama’s plan all along has been to run against a dysfunctional Congress, or that Congress’ dysfunction is a symptom of Obama’s partisan agenda, or that Republicans have been eager to work with Obama all along in the way voters want to see.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.