Monday, April 25, 2011

The 2011 State of the Union Address

The Bigger Picture
Published on March 1st 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I closed my column by stating that even though President Obama offered Republicans in Congress another olive branch in his State of the Union address, I believe America is facing 2 years of political gridlock instead of the political compromises Obama acknowledges are required to address America’s budget deficit and unemployment problems.
During his State of the Union Address President Obama offered an olive branch saying, “Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done. If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.”
Unfortunately for America, the Republican majority that controls the US House of Representatives has demonstrated by their actions that they have no intention of striking any compromises. In the aftermath of the President’s request to “forge a principled compromise” Republicans responded with a clenched fist by voting to repeal the healthcare reform law. Since the repeal law had no chance of being approved by the Senate this was simply a slap in the President’s face as well as a brazen example of political grandstanding by Republicans.
Mind you, there are still some Republicans in Congress who are willing to try and work with the President to address our nation’s problems. Republicans in the Senate like Richard Lugar of Indiana, Olympia Snow of Maine and Orin Hatch of Utah. There are also some in the House of Representatives, but they dare not show their faces for fear of being challenged and defeated in their 2012 bids for re-election by Tea Party activists who will brook no compromise. Therein lies the problem; politicians who are afraid to compromise.
But as I have noted in previous columns, politics is all about the art of forging compromises. So what does it say about the state of politics in America if the legislative political leaders of one of the two main political parties are either unwilling or are too afraid to strike a compromise with their political opponents? This is a recipe for disaster known as ‘political gridlock’ and there are only two things that can loosen its grip on the US Congress; a national crisis like a foreign nation attacking America or another national election.
Since I don’t foresee such a national crisis happening anytime in the near future, it will therefore be up to America’s citizens to break up this political logjam with the votes they cast in the 2012 elections for the US Congress and for President. In other words, let the 2012 US national election campaign begin!
If you think twenty one months prior to Election Day is a tad early to begin a national election campaign, then you would be correct in this assessment. But this has become the reality of politics in America’s increasingly polarized political landscape. Truth be known, the Republicans’ battle plans for the next twenty one months were actually drawn up in the days immediately following the mid-term national elections.
Based on their November 2010 electoral successes, the Republican Congressional leaders’ political strategy was to compromise with the Democratic majority, in order to pass a few important pieces of legislation during in the lame duck session of Congress, and then revert back to being the ‘Party of No’ in January once they took the reins as the majority party in the US House of Representatives. Since most of the newly elected members of the Republican Congressional majority were members of the Tea Party movement, Republican leaders in Congress also knew compromise wasn’t in the cards for these legislators.
As a result, the 2011-2012 Congressional majority version of the ‘Party of No’ is only slightly different from its 2009-2010 minority predecessor. The minority version could vote against any and all of President Obama’s legislative proposals to address America’s economic and social woes secure in the knowledge that an economic disaster would still be averted because these proposals would eventually pass. The new Republican majority version will instead be content to pass bills like the one to repeal Obama’s healthcare reforms, but also secure in the knowledge the Senate will reject them.
Even though no reputable economists on either side of the political spectrum support this notion, Republicans in Congress continue to complain loudly that President Obama’s actions to rescue the American economy haven’t helped and have in fact made things worse. They disingenuously blame Obama’s economic rescue legislation for America’s high level of unemployment and ballooning budget deficit rather than the ruinous fiscal and regulatory policies of previous Republican presidential administrations and Congressional majorities.
So the Republican strategy while they control the House of Representatives for the next two years has now become crystal clear. It is to do precisely what President Obama asked them not to do in his State of the Union address when he pleaded; “Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward.”
The first Republican salvo in re-fighting past battles, was their bill to repeal Obama’ healthcare reform law. But even though America still remains evenly divided on this legislation, a healthy majority of those who are or were opposed to it also do not want to see it repealed, just amended. But Republicans aren’t interested in amending the healthcare law because they are afraid of the Tea Party movement that has taken over their party.
Historically, Americans have taken a liking to divided government because they believe it forces politicians on both sides to move to compromise. Obama also alluded to this in his speech when he said, “We will move forward together, or not at all, because the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.” Unfortunately, Republicans believe the way to win the 2012 elections is by putting their party and politics ahead of moving forward to address America’s problems. But they do so at our nation’s peril.

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