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Obama's Outreach to Earn Zero Votes from House GOP?

January 28, 2009

In November, the American people elected Barack Obama not so much to change the tone in Washington as to change the direction of the country. One week into his tenure as President, it's clear that the Republican minority in Congress will help with him neither. After all of his outreach to the GOP - incorporaing business tax cuts he opposed, three meetings with Republican leaders, the paeans to bipartisanship, the unprecedented trip Tuesday to Capitol Hill - President Obama may not get a single Republican vote as the House takes up his proposed $825 billion economic stimulus bill.
That's the word from Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE). After yesterday's meeting with Obama, one which was preceded by Minority Leader Boehner's call for unified opposition to the plan they were about to discuss, Castle made clear Obama's efforts to appease the GOP would likely come to naught:

While GOP lawmakers said they appreciated Obama's visit, their leaders urged a "no" vote because of the bill's price tag. "All it does is burden our kids and their kids with more debt," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, citing a non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimate that the plan would add $347 billion in interest on the national debt over 10 years.
Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., said there could be as many as 10 to 15 Republicans supporting the package, but added, "If I had to bet, I would bet zero."

Risking backlash from American voters over its endless obstructionism, Congressional Republicans are following a three-part strategy to market their blatant stonewalling as bipartisanship. First, as the fawning from Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra ("If [the] President carries this on it does open door for a new tone!") and other Republicans suggest, the GOP is lavishing praise on the incredibly popular new president. Second, as Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) teed it up, is to blame the Democratic leadership in Congress for betraying their president as the reason why Republicans must withhold their votes.
The last tactic, of course, is simply to redefine "bipartisanship" itself to simply mean adopting Republicans positions, even ones overwhelmingly rejected by the American people. Over the weekend, John McCain announced he would not vote for Obama's stimulus plan because it did not include McCain's tax platform. And as Steve Benen noted over at the Washington Monthly, McConnell amazingly cited President Bush's wildly unpopular effort to privatize Social Security as a case where Democrats refused to shake the outstretched hand of bipartisanship.
Back in 2001, the Bush White House rammed an even larger $1.2 trillion tax cut package down the throats of Democrats despite President Bush's slim majority in congress and his popular vote loss in the disputed 2000 election. As Dick Cheney put it on December 17, 2000:

"As President-elect Bush has made very clear, he ran on a particular platform that was very carefully developed. It's his program, it's his agenda, and we have no intention at all of backing off of it. It's why we got elected."

Which is definitely food for thought. President Obama has staked much of his immense reserves of political capital in a quixotic effort to win over irreconcilable Republicans, all in the name of changing the tone in Washington. For all of his efforts, as Matthew Yglesias grumbled yesterday, "when you bargain, you get something," but Obama has yet to "show me the votes." No doubt, this dynamic of perpetual Republican obstruction on the stimulus package will be repeated on health care, energy legislation and just about every other initiative of the Obama administration.
All of which suggests Barack Obama is about to learn a stiff lesson. Apparently, the Republicans can never be accommodated, only defeated.
UPDATE: As predicted, exactly zero Republicans voted for the $819 billion stimulus bill passed by the House Wednesday afternoon. 11 Democrats joined a united GOP on the losing end of a 244-188 vote.

2 comments on “Obama's Outreach to Earn Zero Votes from House GOP?”

  1. It doesn't take a brainiac to figure out that if you are greatly outnumbered in the House and that your leadership is insane then the best thing to do is vote with your leadership but privately be pleased that the bill passed handily.
    As I predicted today in my own blog, my fellow Democratic supporters are reacting to Obama's massive victory in the House today by grousing that he didn't at the same time beat the crap out of and humiliate every last Republican, including those who wish they were free of the Prisoner's Dilemma in which they are caught. Surely grousing over having just won a big victory qualifies as, in Obama's wording, a petty grievance.


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

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