We now know what President Obama plans for 2012. He’s not going to lead. He doesn’t intend to govern. Work with Congress to deal with critical national problems such as slow economic growth, high unemployment, and exploding debt?Forget it.Obama is devoting the year to running for reelection.
Presidents seeking a second term usually pay special attention to the politics of reelection, but nothing quite like what Obama has in mind.It wasn’t until July 1948 (an election year) that President Truman summoned a special session of the Republican-controlled Congress to justify his charge of a “do-nothing Congress.” Obama started last month with a hyper-partisan speech in Osawatomie, Kansas.
Josh Earnest, deputy White House press secretary, described Obama’s strategy this way: “In terms of the president’s relationship with Congress in 2012 . . . the president is no longer tied to Washington.” That sounds a bit vague, but it means Obama will spend the year denouncing House Republicans without doing meaningful legislative business with them.
Earnest told reporters the president wants only one thing from Congress in 2012. That’s passage of a measure extending the payroll tax cut for 10 more months. Last month, Congress approved a 2-month extension.
Obama could have gotten a full year of the payroll tax reduction in December after the House passed exactly that. But he spurned the House bill, instead endorsing the two-month extension the Democratic-run Senate had voted for.
Why would he do this if he really preferred the longer extension? Pure presidential politics. When the issue comes up in February, Obama can attack Republicans for refusing to “pay” for the tax cut by increasing the tax burden of the wealthy and touting his election year theme of “economic justice.”
Obama’s strategy for 2012 is a repudiation of the most distinctive promise in his 2008 campaign, the one that sets him apart from the other presidential candidates. He said he would end the polarization on Capitol Hill and change the way Washington does business.
But Obama turned out to be an extraordinarily polarizing figure. He talked about compromising with congressional Republicans on health care, economic stimulus, and other initiatives, but didn’t follow through.
He let two of the most partisan Democrats on Capitol Hill, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi, draft key legislation. And they not only had no interest in reaching bipartisan deals, they also didn’t need Republican votes to pass legislation.
One more thing. Obama’s plan to spend the year criticizing Republicans has the additional objective of taking the spotlight off his record as president, especially the weak economy. He claims House Republicans have obstructed his agenda and harmed middle class Americans.