By now, you’ve heard or at least heard about the Lecture Heard ‘Round Washington: President Barack Obama, before a live C-Span televised audience, took the House Republicans Caucus head-on during their Baltimore party retreat.
Obama did a quite a few things in just an hour to begin to reverse some of the problems of his first year.
Correcting the record. Continuing his clarification of what went wrong and when/on whose watch, Obama reminded Republicans chirping about high unemployment that massive job losses didn’t began well before any of his term commenced or his policies were in place. “[W]e can score political points on the basis of the fact that we underestimated how severe the job losses were going to be, but those job losses took place before any stimulus, whether it was the ones that you guys have proposed or the ones that we proposed, could have ever taken to effect.”
My bipartisanship is bigger than your bipartisanship. Howard Baker, Bob Dole and Tom Daschle are “not a radical bunch.” To listen to the debate, he said, “you’d think this was a Bolshevik revolt.” Then he dropped this: “We have to close the gap between the rhetoric and the reality.” Translation, to borrow from a famous Dole line: “Stop lying about my proposal.” More to the point, you Republicans aren’t like the old Republicans who could negotiate in good faith.
Attribute in full bloom. Obama’s fellow Illinoisan Pete Roskam voiced a regular complaint heard from the House GOP, namely, that Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats have shut them out. I would have liked to hear the president remind the GOP of its 3-hour House roll call vote on Medicare Part D, or how they dropped bills in Democrats’ laps at the last minute, and other exclusionary and dismissive behaviors during last decade. He called for a “tone of civility, instead of slash-and-burn” and complained about the media. He reminded them that they and Democrats have to be careful with all the nasty inter-party language because eventually citizens start to believe it, when in fact a lot of it is just normal Washington talking-point politics. The “attribute in full bloom” Roskam remembers from Obama’s days as a state senator–his open-mindedness and willing to work all serious persons, regardless of party–was in full bloom Saturday in Baltimore.
Hensarling’s $8 trillion amnesia smackdown. Obama was at full steam by the end when Jeb Hensarling of Texas tried to paint the administration’s proposals as reckless, deficit-exploding policies.
[W]e came in already with a $1.3 trillion deficit before I had passed any law. What is true is we came in with $8 trillion worth of debt over the next decade — had nothing to do with anything that we had done. It had to do with the fact that in 2000 when there was a budget surplus of $200 billion, you had a Republican administration and a Republican Congress, and we had two tax cuts that weren’t paid for.
You had a prescription drug plan — the biggest entitlement plan, by the way, in several decades — that was passed without it being paid for. You had two wars that were done through supplementals. And then you had $3 trillion projected because of the lost revenue of this recession. That’s $8 trillion.
Now, we increased it by a trillion dollars because of the spending that we had to make on the stimulus. I am happy to have any independent fact-checker out there take a look at your presentation versus mine in terms of the accuracy of what I just said.
Give the Republicans credit: During the past year they have successfully depicted the country’s economic and fiscal ills as not merely Obama’s inheritance but somehow his legacy. After a decade of Republican-sponsored free lunches, coupled with legitimate but insufficient proposals like earmark reform (which account for about 1 percent of federal spending) and tort reform (which would have a similarly small effect reducing overall health care costs), it’s convenient to chastise the president for fiscal irresponsibility. Equally convenient is the memory hole politics conservatives play: Still blaming Jimmy Carter for the economy 32 years after he left Washington, yet insisting that the statute on Bush-blaming be no more than one year even if the reach of fiscal choices made during those eight years is and will be felt long into the Obama era.
What Obama did Saturday is take the fight to his detractors. It was a certifiable bully pulpit moment, and one that could signal a shift in political posture for the White House. Although the president stressed that he has read the GOP’s proposals and taken into consideration their suggested alternatives, the broader message from the Baltimore meeting is the President is ready to fight. He promised to listen, and called for good faith negotiation; he kept his cool and was funny at key moments. But the subtext was clear: “Enough is enough from you guys.”