Politics and Governance

Re-Election Thanks to a Do-Nothing Congress


If the president wants to win reelection, he needs to pass his jobs and debt bills. And by that I mean they need to fail.

Since his election in 2008, the Republican Party has routinely come out against nearly everything the president has championed through Congress. Even when the president proposes policy ideas that the GOP would normally vote for, they vote against him. For better or for worse, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) best summarized their attitude toward the president when he said his goal was a one-term Obama presidency.

So with the knowledge of the last two years, the president should learn that the GOP will vote against anything coming out of the White House. Now that compromise is next to impossible, and cooler heads will not prevail within the Beltway, why not, well, use that against them?

In 1948, President Truman was faced with an opposition Congress hell-bent on taking back the White House. They even went so far as to override a presidential veto on a labor-relations bill that was anti-union. In fact, Truman was so far down in the polls that the Republican Convention adopted a platform they felt was advantageous to getting a Republican elected president. Among the policy proposals that year: federal aid to states for slum clearance and low-rental housing, extension of Social Security benefits, anti-lynching legislation, federal civil rights legislation and recognition of the state of Israel.

All of these policies were supported by President Truman. But Truman, an avid poker player, decided to call the GOP’s bluff. While the Republican Party said they believed in their platform, Truman actually advocated it. He called a special session of the 80th “do-nothing” Congress, as he called it, and gave them an opportunity to pass their platform as law, knowing full well what he wanted would not pass. Not a single platform policy became law in the called session. This proved that the GOP was simply motivated to get Truman out of office, not on helping the American people.

Today, President Obama is faced with the same Republican spirit: to get him out of office. Therefore, he ought to propose anything and everything he wants, knowing full well it will not pass the Republican-controlled House. And as for the jobs bill, it’s a public relations coup: Keep calling it the jobs bill. Then when the vote comes right down to it, force the GOP to vote on it, up or down. Make them vote against a jobs bill.

In the end, one of two things will happen. One possibility is that the bills will pass and the president will not only get everything he wanted but also claim victories while he’s campaigning for reelection. The GOP will no longer have their air of invincibility.

More likely though, the bills will fail. The president will then get to campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress and a party that voted against job creation and debt reduction. At their convention, the GOP will undoubtedly advocate a platform that calls for these same things. And the president, at his convention, can reply right back that they had the opportunity and failed.

As the political parties begin the election season, they have once again been dealt different hands. We’ll soon know if the president is willing to pay his ante to see if the Republicans are bluffing or if he’s holding an unwinnable hand.


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