How not to solve political differences

Reagan and Clinton both believed that legislation stood a greater chance of succeeding if no one cared who took the credit. The Obama administration should take note

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"Not listening..."
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Dr. James Boys
On 20 February 2013 09:19

During their respective time in office, both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton asserted their believe that legislation stood a greater chance of succeeding if no one cared who took the credit. Now, in 2013, it appears that the Obama administration has inverted this sentiment and would rather see legislation fail if it can’t be covered in laurels and receive the credit.

If this is not the explicit approach being adopted in the White House, then its Congressional Liaison staff is going out of its way to make it appear so. Over the past four years the relations between the White House and Congress have been testy at best and deteriorated sharply following the 2010 mid-term elections. However, any hopes that a new era would emerge following the 2012 election cycle have quickly diminished, as both Republicans and Democrats have clung to their respective mandates as reason to continue to obstruct and delay.

That said, in rapid succession the White House has demonstrated a stunning disregard for political process and for the nuance required to pass legislation. In a system designed to frustrate, the Obama Administration appears determined to make matters worse.

In the last days of 2012 the United States was hurtling towards what became universally known as the Fiscal Cliff. Economists, political consultants and media pundits speculated wildly as to the potential repercussions of such an event, whilst in D.C., high-level negotiations continued in an apparent effort to prevent such an incident.

But while these negotiations were moving forward, the president chose to stage a campaign style rally on the White House campus surrounded by children who he claimed would suffer under the proposals put forth by the Republican Party.

Now, to be clear, the Republican Party and its leadership hardly covered themselves in glory in this process and as a result questions were asked as to the continued viability of John Boehner’s Speakership. But putting Republican shortfalls to one side, the decision of the president to stage such a politically inept event at the very moment that negotiators were meeting to flesh out an agreement spoke volumes of the tin ear the administration has and to its appalling capacity to deal with congress.

It should not surprise anyone that the final deal appears to have been struck by Vice President Biden, and the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, two old boys from the Senate who have known each other for decades and who are used to working together to solve problems; in other words, two politicians who understand how and why congress works and, importantly, how not to get things done.

Even then, the best that they could do was to kick the problem three months down the road, so that we are faced with the dilemma once more. This episode was a clear and telling reminder of Obama’s lack of legislative experience and should be a warning for the next time a candidate has the hubris to declare his or herself ready for the presidency after little more than 18 months in the US Senate.

Just short of three months later the U.S. finds itself in a similar situation but over a different set of circumstances. For years, politicians in Washington have been debating immigration reform, but only rarely do serious proposals see the light of day and make it out of various committees. Failed legislation can become toxic and persuade any career-minded politician to avoid the issue for years, possibly even decades (as occurred with health care). So when a bipartisan group of serious-minded, intelligent Senators (known as the Group of Eight) got together in an effort to present a balanced and logical series of initiatives on the issue, you would have imagined that this was something the White House would have been supportive of. You’d be wrong.

Instead of welcoming such moves and working either quietly or openly to promote a bipartisan initiative to solve this long-standing issue, the White House appears determined to kill it at birth.

The first move was for the president to insist on delivering a speech in Las Vegas within hours of the Group of Eight press conference on the issue. This immediately drew attention and political momentum away from the work that had been conducted on the matter. As if that wasn’t bad enough, USA Today has now been provided with draft legislation from the White House that would appear to directly challenge the bill being proposed by the Group of Eight.

One must ask at what point ineptitude becomes a deliberate attempt to obfuscate and be bloody-minded. Whichever approach is being adopted, the end result is the same; bipartisan legislation is being undermined, politics is becoming sullied, and confidence in the United States is being shaken. Leadership, it appears, was not on the ballot in 2012, let us hope it will be in 2016.

Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. He is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University in London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @jamesdboys

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