For several years now, smart commentators have been noticing a consistent strategic error within the Republican caucus. Since literally the day President Obama was inaugurated, Republicans have vowed to defeat him. They have refused to compromise on nearly any Democratic or Republican priorities, instead choosing to block the President’s agenda in hopes of hurting his popularity enough to get one of their own guys in the Oval Office. To this point, it hasn’t worked. Obama’s popularity is low, but he did win a second term, and, if the election were to be today, a Democrat would be President next time around, too.
On specific policies, though, is where Republican intransigence has really hurt them. First with the Stimulus Package, then on health reform, and now on matters of budget and austerity, Republicans have repeatedly missed opportunities to participate in negotiations and achieve parts of their agenda.
First, it was the stimulus package in 2009. Republicans, save for the most moderate members like the Maine twins, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, voted completely against the bill, and unsurprisingly found that very few of their priorities found their way into the final bill. As it was, up to a third of the package was delivered in the form of tax cuts. If Republicans had participated more fully in the negotiations, there is a 100% chance that they would have gotten a higher proportion of tax cuts to government spending, and it’s even likely that they would have been able to find a way to make those cuts permanent, either at the time or in the intervening months and years.
Next, during the healthcare reform debates of 2009 and ’10, Republicans again presented united opposition. The only negotiation they took part in was clearly fake, meant to divert attention and slow the process down enough to effectively kill it. At one point, a bipartisan group in the Senate, the “gang of six” spent the entire summer of 2009 “discussing” a bill, and came away with nothing but three valuable months at the beginning of a new President’s term wasted.
Eventually, Democrats ended up passing basically their own version of health care reform, completely devoid of input from elected Republicans. Sure, the plan they ended up passing had been lifted from the conservative “Heritage Foundation”, and first used by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in beautiful Massachusetts, but Republicans now complaining about Obamacare being the end of civilization almost certainly had the chance to negotiate and change the law in 2009, and instead chose to stonewall.
Now, and even throughout the Obama Presidency, Republicans have also refused any sort of “grand bargain” on debt and budgetary issues, no matter how many different offers the President has made them. Last year, as I discussed yesterday, it was “chained CPI“, possibly not the Republican dream of how to “fix” Social Security, but if you want to decrease pay-outs and make the program more stable, could have been a solid first step. Now, because Republicans didn’t offer anything in return for Obama’s concession on chained CPI, that offer is off the table. A few years ago, Obama once again offered the Republicans a dream policy that they’ve wanted for years, and liberals hate- raising the retirement age. Again, Republican intransigence and failure to offer inducements for Democrats to make the deal saw that opportunity, and another selling point members of congress could have brought home to their constituents, slip out the window.
The same dynamic has played out on basically every budget the President has released until this one- he makes compromises Republicans should like, they find a way to hate the deal anyway for political reasons and refuse to negotiate, and Republicans get none of what they want. Democrats continue governing the country, holding two of the three law-making branches, and occasionally passing their own priorities.
Maybe, just maybe, you could say that all of this obstinance was worth it, if it made the Republicans sufficiently popular that they would win elections and implement their FULL plan, not a watered down, compromised, Obama-fied version of them. But that’s not what’s happening in the slightest bit! Instead, Republicans are refusing to participate in government, achieving exactly zero of their priorities, and becoming even less popular at the same time.
As Kevin Drum at Mother Jones wrote:
Instead, by refusing to compromise in any way, they’ve lost everything. Just as they lost everything on health care by refusing to engage with Democrats on the Affordable Care Act. Just as they lost everything on the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. Just as they lost the 2012 election.
Hard-nosed obstinacy plays well with the base, but it’s not a winning strategy in the end. Republicans never seem to learn that lesson.
The American system was made to work as one of compromise between parties with disparate interests. Something tells me they STILL haven’t learned this lesson yet.