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Kristol Calls for a Repeat of 1990's GOP Obstructionism

February 4, 2009

When it comes to blocking President Obama's economic stimulus plan, what is old is new for the conservative movement. Fearing a permanent Democratic majority if Bill Clinton succeeded in passing his health care reform package, Bill Kristol in 1993 famously rallied Republicans with a memo urging his party to halt it at all costs. With Congressional Republicans and right-wing talking heads alike now circling the wagons, history is apparently repeating itself. Afraid not that Obama's plan might fail, but that it might succeed, Kristol is now urging the GOP to again mobilize a scorched-earth campaign to prevent any Democratic success on an economic recovery package.
Fresh off the GOP's record-setting obstructionism during the last session of Congress, the mouthpieces of the right are calling for an encore performance. Days before Obama's inauguration, failed would-be RNC chairman Kenneth Blackwell decried the stimulus proposal, arguing its passage would make "harder for Republicans to retake the White House." 10 days ago, Rush Limbaugh recycled Kristol's 1990's message on health care, declaring:

"Obama's plan would buy votes for the Democrat Party, in the same way FDR's New Deal established majority power for 50 years of Democrat rule...Put simply, I believe his stimulus is aimed at re-establishing "eternal" power for the Democrat Party."

While President Obama during a White House meeting two weeks ago cautioned Republican leaders not to take their marching orders from Limbaugh, it's now clear they are doing exactly that. Obama's right-wing dinner companions, including Kristol, uniformly denounced his program for the economy. The now former New York Times columnist argued recently, "Politically, I think the Republicans have more room too argue for changes and ultimately vote against it."
On Monday, Kristol left no doubt that he believed the Republican Party should repeat the obstructionism that destroyed the Clinton health care plan in 1993 and 1994. GOP leaders in Congress, Kristol told Fox News' Neil Cavuto, should emulate the roadblock Republicans of the 1990's to block Obama's economic recovery package now and everything else - including health care reform - later:

"But the loss of credibility, even if they jam it through, really hurts them on the next, on the next piece of legislation. Clinton got through his tax increases in '93, it was such a labor and he had to twist so many arms to do it and he became so unpopular...
...That it made, that it made it so much easier to then defeat his health care initiative. So, it's very important for Republicans who think they're going to have to fight later on on health care, fight later on maybe on some of the bank bailout legislation, fight later on on all kinds of issues. It's very important for them, I think, not just to stay united at this time, though that's important, but to make the arguments."

To be sure, Republicans in Congress so far are heeding his advice. Withholding all of their votes on the House version of the stimulus bill, Senate Republicans are now threatening a filibuster. And with a two-to-one margin in the Electoral College, a 7 million vote plurality, huge Congressional majorities and unprecedented approval ratings in his back pocket, Obama seems poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
That concern has been echoed repeatedly by New York Times columnist and Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. Despite having already incorporated a wide array of tax breaks advocated by the GOP (at the expense of key Democratic initiatives like mass transit funding), President Obama has likely only bought himself further Republican opposition. Call it Krugman's Law: the Republicans can never be accommodated, only defeated.
He made that point clear in his January 5th column which essentially warned Obama that he is bringing a knife to a gun fight:

"Look, Republicans are not going to come on board. Make 40% of the package tax cuts, they'll demand 100%. Then they'll start the thing about how you can't cut taxes on people who don't pay taxes (with only income taxes counting, of course) and demand that the plan focus on the affluent. Then they'll demand cuts in corporate taxes. And Mitch McConnell is already saying that state and local governments should get loans, not aid - which would undermine that part of the plan, too."

Just days later, Krugman worried that President Obama was concerned less with crafting the recovery package the economy so badly needed and instead focused more on garnering broader support among likely irreconciliable Republicans. Arguing "Mr. Obama's prescription doesn't live up to his diagnosis," Krugman pondered:

"Or is the plan being limited by political caution? Press reports last month indicated that Obama aides were anxious to keep the final price tag on the plan below the politically sensitive trillion-dollar mark. There also have been suggestions that the plan's inclusion of large business tax cuts, which add to its cost but will do little for the economy, is an attempt to win Republican votes in Congress."

On Monday, Krugman took his critique a step further, debunking GOP mythology and eviscerating Republican talking points about the Obama plan. In his aptly titled piece, "Bad Faith Economics," he warned the President about the true nature of Republican opposition:

"Conservatives really, really don't want to see a second New Deal, and they certainly don't want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to beat proposals for increased government spending."

Whether President Obama and his team heed Krugman's advice remains to be seen. As for the Republican Party and its amen corner, there is little doubt they are reading from the same playbook, the one Bill Kristol wrote in 1993.
UPDATE: On Wednesday, Kristol trumpeted a Rasmussen poll showing Americans' support for the stimulus package dropping to 37%.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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