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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Running To Empty?

If I am a loyal Congressional Democrat I am very ticked off at the White House, and especially President Obama right now. Elected with a 7 point majority but behaving as if handed a mandate, the President has left me holding the bucket on health care. Traipsing around the country raising money for other Democrats he has left me holding the credit card on an exploding federal deficit and federal debt approaching $33 trillion. Waffling on any decision concerning Afghanistan he has left me holding the phone, calling constituents whose son has just been killed in the war. Attacking the most watched cable news station he has left me holding the remote control.

On health care Obama has been quick to give speeches about a broken system. Quick to blame insurance companies. Quick to blame Medicare rife with inefficiencies and fraud. Quick to blame Republicans for any opposition to any of the bills in the Senate and House. Missing from the health care reform process has been any formal input or proposals from the White House. Obama's position on health care reform has been "not my job, it is for Congress to present me with a bill." Technically he is correct, it is the job of the Legislative Branch to present to the Executive Branch legislation to be signed into law. Technically this formal process broke down decades ago with President Franklin Roosevelt who pushed his legislative agenda through a willing Congress. Vacant from the health care reform process has been the President stating clearly and succinctly, "This is my proposal."

Through the tumultuous summer of discontent, with the Town Hall meetings, the Tea Parties and the debates in diners and at neighborhood block parties Congressional Democrats were the targets of angry constituents confused over thousands of pages of proposed legislation, upset over trillions of dollars of federal spending, concerned over future deficits and how they would be paid for. Back in Washington, or in Chicago, or in Martha's Vineyard, or in Copenhagen, President Obama was one day saying the "public option" was an option and the next day saying any legislation to be effective must have some form of public option. Depending on who was in the live audience a different version of the health care reform speech was delivered. As long as the speech was delivered well everyone clapped. "We must not wait. We must reform our broken health care system. Those profiting from the ills of others are conspiring to deprive others. Republicans are to blame." Fill in the rest.

The White House has presented no leadership on this issue. As the leader of the Democratic Party, Obama has left Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in charge of health care reform, in charge of legislation to be voted up or down in Congress, in charge of whipping Democrats into supporting legislation. Democrats who have gotten their hats handed to them over the summer and since are shying away from public option votes and the huge deficits currently proposed legislation will incur. Without a legislative proposal from Obama the Democratic leadership has lost the political card of, "you need to support the President on this." Instead it is "you need to support Speaker Pelosi who has an approval rating of 19 on this." With no leadership there is no cohesion. With no cohesion health care reform legislation is not going to pass in this term of Congress.

Right after taking office Obama declared that the federal government needed to spend almost $1 trillion dollars in stimulus funds to prevent unemployment from rising and restart the economy. Despite a majority of economists saying the economic cycle would run its course and correct by the end of 2009, despite over three-quarters of the stimulus funds in the legislation not being spent until well into 2010, the White House and Obama created a do-or-die urgency and pushed legislation through. As a result Obama's most significant legislative success, that he initiated and pushed, is a huge pile of spending and debt that has had an almost insignificant impact on the national economy and provided members of Congress with pork projects they can use as political capital heading into the November 2010 elections. With no evidence of the spending, but daily evidence of a growing deficit and government debt, members of Congress are being pressed more than ever on the spending of the Federal government and how our children and grandchildren will pay for it. Most of them ran for election or re-election in 2008, as did the President, on the massive spending of President Bush. In 280 days of the Obama Administration they have outspent by vast margins any spending in the eight years of the Bush Administration and the debt being charged up is approaching a greater amount than all the debt of the Bush years combined. Coming home to cities on the verge of bankruptcy, states on the verge of bankruptcy and constituents out of work, members of Congress are being asked to explain how they can be spending more and more and endebting future tax revenues to pay back Chinese investment in Treasury bonds.

In March President Obama was on television with a very patriotic setting, standing on a flag filled stage with his Secretary of State and several senior officers in the military and declared he has a policy for Afghanistan. He stated winning the war in Afghanistan and defeating the Taliban was a top priority. This summer the Taliban gained a few toeholds and key routes from bases in Pakistan into Afghanistan and began an offensive against NATO and American troops. Slowly they regained control over parts of the country and its people. Certain factions of the Democratic Party were upset that Obama was keeping troops in Afghanistan instead of pulling them out. As the general leading the fight in Afghanistan called for more troops to achieve the objective of winning the war and destroying the Taliban, Obama went into decision mode. This has entailed several weeks, months, of consideration. During this period of consideration and no decision Obama has taken the time, several times, to blame his predecessor for Afghanistan and he is trying to find the best way to deal with it. Seemingly forgetting his own pronouncement in March that he has enacted his policy and his objective to win the war, with this policy not working it is convenient to skip over March and instead flip back to his go to target: Bush and Republicans.

No leadership on health care reform that is leaving his party fractionalized, a Treasury that is selling hundreds of billions of dollars in debt weekly, his only major piece of legislation that has had none of the intended impact, inability to make a declarative decision--or stick with a previous one--on a war, have left President Obama very open to criticism. How has he dealt with it? Blame a cable news network, blame radio hosts, blame political opponents and go raise money for the party. By putting targets out there for his ardent supporters, targets at Fox News, targets on Rush Limbaugh, targets on Republican members of Congress, targets on Bush, Obama takes focus off of his lack of leadership to achieve goals.

Lack of leadership is not the reason cohesive health care reform has not passed in Congress, lack of leadership is not the reason we have burgeoning deficits and debt, lack of leadership is not why we are stuck in "what now?" in Afghanistan; no these problems exist because Fox News asks hard questions that other media are not, Rush Limbaugh leads the Republican Party, the Republican Party is evil in the pockets of special interests bent on destroying the Administration and Bush is to blame for Afghanistan and everything else.

Evading responsibility, evading major policy pronouncements and supporting them through Congress, evading making difficult decisions that will upset some within his own party have put a leak in Obama's balloon. What is leaking is his political capital as members of his party are seeing how little support they are getting for their policies and objectives. Like foot soldiers in some 17th Century battle, members of Congress are being sent out to face the enemy, being sacrificed so as to protect the King behind the lines of battle. While sitting in the castle making pronouncements and blaming others, the loyal foot soldiers press on into the arrows, spears and swords. Foot soldiers who can be sacrificed as long as the King remains popular. As President Obama's political capital runs to empty, so to does that of his loyal foot soldiers.

If I'm a Congressional Democrat I'm pissed.


Bob Schilling said...

I'll be more impressed with your criticism of the Obama Administration once I read what you like about it or where you agree with what they're doing. No government, including the late, unlamented Bush Administration, is wrong on every issue all the time. At the point where you think EVERYTHING they do is stupid or short-sighted or the result of malicious intent, the problem isn't them. It's you.

For the sake of my country, I devoutly hope that your criticisms, as well as those of other conservatives, are dead wrong. I wish you no evil, but if you're right we're in terrible trouble. Worse, as far as I can see, conservatives have no answers of their own, beyond blind, angry opposition to everFor my own peace of mind, I want to stick to the thought that these are smart, practical people whose policies will ultimately be shown to be effective and helpful. There will, of course, be mistakes. For now, though, I'm committed to the thought that there will be more successes than failures.

It might be instructive for you to read the statement of Wendell Wilkie and Alf Landon in their runs against Roosevelt. They shared some of the same criticisms that conservatives express now. It turns out they were wrong then. Now? Well, that's for you to decide.

Dennis C Smith said...


I have given Obama credit on education, and that is probably my topic on Monday. As well when he announced his Afghanistan policy in March I was pleased he had a policy and central to it was seeking out and destroying Talibanians and pursuing them into Pakistan if need be. Stimulus? No. Cap and Trade? No. Government controlled health care? No. Taxing the middle-class and high income earners to pay for more social programs? No.

Regarding GOP input on health care, cap and trade, etc. you need to exert a little effort to find out what their ideas are because CNN, MSNBC, ABC, LA Times, etc are not going to show you. On health care many amendments in committee have been voted down that called for tort reform, that called for audits of Medicare to root out waste and fraud before overhauling, to allow insurance companies to compete in multiple states. Currently there is a GOP sponsored bill looking for signatures to overturn the HVCC policy that has handcuffed the real estate market, Barney Frank won't let it come up.

There are plenty of ideas and possible solutions, the problem is whenever they are brought up they are either not reported or packaged as routine opposition and discarded.

Your thought that "these are smart, practical people" in regards to Pelosi and Reid loyalist is probably half right. In the end for them it is about power and staying in power, not what is practical for you and me. If it is so practical where is their support and signing onto proposal from Sen Coburn that any health care reform passed that includes public option is one that members of Congress must use? Sounds practical.

Thanks for your comments and dedicated readership!