Friday, November 05, 2010

Obama, whip out that veto pen

I am probably snapping at just the wrong hour. Intellectually, I know that the president's showdown with the Republican leadership will play out long and slow.  Clinton didn't face down Gingrich and Dole over the government shutdown until a year and more after the 1994 election.

But for the moment, I too am tired of defending Obama.

I can accept the electoral landslide.  I think the Democrats were mainly caught holding the bag in a quasi-Depression triggered mainly by Republican misrule. I think that history will honor the president and the 111th Congress, and that the country will reap long-term benefits, from the Patient Protection Act (e.g., its long-term impact on healthcare spending and therefore on the structural deficit), and for substantial if far-from-perfect financial reform, and for a stimulus that was effective as far as it went.  I partially accept the argument of Martin Wolf and Paul Krugman that a too-small stimulus was a grievous error for which we all paid economically and the Democrats, to a never-to-be-known degree, paid politically. I see large achievements and large courage -- as well, paradoxically, as the lack of courage with which Krugman charges the president today (of course the same leadership can exhibit both on different fronts).

What I can't brook at the moment is Obama going all humble and conciliatory on us while Mitch McConnell is literally baying for his political blood, doubling down on his stated goal of making Obama a one-term president.

Talk of finding "common ground" with "my Republicans friends" is way past its sell-by date, except as a short introductory clause followed by a large butConcessions that voters " felt as if government was getting much more intrusive in people's lives than they were accustomed to" during his tenure,  and holding up the Republican shibboleth on earmarks as a meaningful point of agreement, and asserting that he's "happy to consider" Republican "ideas for how to improve our healthcare system" -- in the absence of a robust defense of the PPACA -- are out place just now.  Failure to face down the Republicans on the Bush tax cuts, expressing willingness to extend them all "temporarily" (until when?), is unfathomable to me.

The president and the 111th Congress laid down vital pillars of the New Foundation for sustainable long-term economic growth that he proposed in February 2009 (who remembers that?). They include: health reform with strong cost controls; serious curbs on banking activity; substantial investment in alternative energy; and promising catalysts for meaningful education reform on the state level.  The Republicans won in large part by shamelessly misrepresenting the stimulus as a wasteful boondoggle, the financial reform bill as a drag on growth, and the health reform law as a budget-buster rather than the strongest deficit reduction tool we yet have.  The Democrats lost that messaging war -- never mind that the Republicans were shooting from a hilltop of 9.6% unemployment.  The president does indeed have to "relitigate" those battles because the Republicans cannot be clearer: they will stop at nothing to tear down every pillar of Obama's foundation.

The president can be as polite and civil as he likes, but this is what I need to hear from him:

1. He will veto any bill that includes provisions to defund the PPACA or gut key provisions, including omnibus spending bills.
2. He will veto any legislation that neuters the main provisions of  Dodd-Frank: the resolution authority, the consumer protection bureau, the controls on derivative trading, the Volcker Rule (already significantly watered down as it is).
3. He will veto any attempt to extend the Bush tax cuts. This one is gone already. But the stage was set for a game of chicken that I don't see how he could have lost.  Would the Republicans have let all the tax cuts expire? If they did, would they not rush to pass legislation reinstating as many of them as they could get through the Senate and the president?
4. He will veto any legislation that defunds what's left of the stimulus.

As Sullivan likes to say periodically, "Fight, Mr. President."  One gets tired of saying it.  But let's remember that at the the high point of Republican stonewalling in the expiring Congress, Obama came through.

UPDATE: Andrew Sabl mounts a powerful defense of the typically Obamaian rhetoric of the press conference:

*I’m not saying that the President has any intention of meeting the Republicans halfway on policy. His press conference on Wednesday made that very clear. But his rhetoric has been conciliatory—and as I’ve said before, while that might frustrate progressives eager for a donnybrook, it’s outstanding politics in a country where everyone is raised on civics-book bipartisanship and a huge majority of voters wish Washington politicians would “stop bickering” and “get things done.”
That's my own usual response to Obama's conciliatory accents. This time, however, we're confronted with the evidence that the public has bought into the lies the Republicans have promulgated about stimulus, PPACA, deficit, taxes and  financial reform. How can Obama face down a government shutdown or defunding compromises with wavering centrist  Democrats if he seems to concede that the legislation he passed was ad hoc, flawed, unduly expensive and according too much power to government?


  1. I don’t think you’re flinching at an inopportune moment at all. In fact, this post positively nails it and distills the wisest outlooks I’ve read and heard since Tuesday. In the face of a GOP resurgence that consists of very little more than animus, evasiveness, and nihilistic ambition, it’s just too galling to endure another cycle of Obama’s possum-playing long game. Harry Truman was “the adult in the room” too, but in a way that was consistent with being a badass when necessary. BO needs to speak softly and call bullshit loudly at the White House summit on November 18th. What he can’t do is nod in agreement at a bunch of Republicans who are barely out of rehab and are already denying they ever got drunk and beat us up.

  2. Patience. Look at page 25 of this poll.

    The vast majority of people want compromise after this election. Obama is coming out of his electoral whooping with humility and the words of compromise, while the Republican Senate leadership talks about denying the President a second term. Now is not the time for Obama to lose it. It just got hammered, and we would look out of touch.

    He would veto anything that involved 1,2, and 4. We all know that. Why rattle the sabre? Speak softly and carry a big stick.

    I think his issue with #3 is a policy one. I think he is worried about endangering a recovery.