Obama’s legacy may be to­tal lack of co­op­er­a­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER

Pres­i­dent Obama’s de­fi­ant em­pha­sis on ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion re­veals a larger fail­ure loom­ing for his legacy: His in­abil­ity to work with Repub­li­cans means that he’s un­likely to score even one sig­nif­i­cant leg­isla­tive achieve­ment over the fi­nal years of his pres­i­dency.

Un­less Democrats win back the House and hold on to the Se­nate in Novem­ber, a sce­nario dis­missed by most po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts, Mr. Obama has said good­bye long ago to his big­gest ac­com­plish­ments in Congress. They oc­curred back in 2010, when Democrats con­trolled the House and Se­nate, and Mr. Obama signed into law Oba­macare, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street re­form act and a two-year ex­ten­sion of across-the-board tax cuts orig­i­nally au­thored by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

How­ever, there is now di­vided govern­ment in Wash­ing­ton, and ide­o­log­i­cal cleav­ages have deep­ened and hard­ened, mak­ing a chore of ne­go­ti­a­tions, some­thing at which Mr. Obama does not ex­cel.

“I think the pres­i­dent would be happy to work with Congress if it was con­trolled by Democrats,” said David Bern­stein, a con­sti­tu­tional law specialist at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity’s law school. “I don’t think the prob­lem is an aloof pres­i­dent who doesn’t get along with Congress; the prob­lem is that the pres­i­dent and his ad­vis­ers are from a gen­er­a­tion of lib­er­als who have ut­ter con­tempt for and dis­gust with any­one to the right of a mod­ern Demo­crat.”

Nowa­days, as Mr. Obama’s feud with House Repub­li­cans deep­ens, the list of leg­is­la­tion that he is sign­ing into law reads like a menu of small, bland plates: the Harm­ful Al­gal Bloom and Hy­poxia Re­search and Con­trol Amend­ments Act of 2014, the Collinsville Re­new­able En­ergy Pro­mo­tion Act and, let’s not for­get, the North Texas In­va­sive Species Bar­rier Act of 2014.

The pres­i­dent’s ex­pla­na­tion of the prob­lem is the same it’s been since early 2011 — Repub­li­cans won’t work with him. He re­peated that theme again Tues­day at an event in Vir­ginia, where he called on Congress to re­new spend­ing on road and bridge re­pairs.

“I want to work with ev­ery­body — Repub­li­cans and Democrats — to move this coun­try for­ward,” Mr. Obama said. “Mean­while, Repub­li­cans in Congress keep block­ing or voting down some of the ideas that would have the big­gest im­pact on mid­dle-class and work­ing fam­i­lies. Not just cre­at­ing more new con­struc­tion jobs, [but the Repub­li­cans have] said no to rais­ing the min­i­mum wage, to equal pay, to fix­ing our bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.”

But there’s lit­tle ev­i­dence that Mr. Obama is will­ing to work with Repub­li­cans on terms other than his own. A prime ex­am­ple is the Key­stone XL pipe­line, which Amer­i­cans sup­port by a mar­gin of three-to-one and would cre­ate thou­sands of jobs.

The House has ap­proved a bill to build the pipe­line. But the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, leery of an­ger­ing the pres­i­dent’s en­vi­ron­men­tal base, has de­layed ap­proval for the project since the start of his pres­i­dency.

Me­dia fact-check­ers have noted that House Repub­li­cans have ap­proved nearly 50 bills to boost the econ­omy, but Mr. Obama’s Demo­cratic al­lies in the Se­nate have blocked all but a hand­ful. Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, again urged the pres­i­dent Tues­day “to call [Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader] Harry Reid and sug­gest it’s time to take a look at these bills to get our econ­omy mov­ing.”

The im­passe is caus­ing frus­tra­tion out­side govern­ment cir­cles too. At a meet­ing last week of the White House Busi­ness Coun­cil, an un­named in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive spouted off about the dead­lock be­tween the ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans on re­newed fund­ing for trans­porta­tion projects.

The busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive said a so­lu­tion sim­ply re­quires “po­lit­i­cal will on the parts of both par­ties” to raise the federal gas tax.

“Raise the damn tax. Let’s get on with it,” he told the pres­i­dent’s ad­vis­ers.

Al­though a tax in­crease is a non­starter in the short term, Greg Nel­son, a se­nior eco­nomic ad­viser to the pres­i­dent, said “that shouldn’t stop us for hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion” about a long-term so­lu­tion that would in­clude a tax raise.

To show that he’s will­ing to con­sider Repub­li­cans’ ideas, Mr. Obama has been fond of telling au­di­ences lately that he em­braces the ex­am­ples of Repub­li­can pres­i­dents such as Dwight Eisen­hower, who built the in­ter­state high­way sys­tem; of Teddy Roo­sevelt, who cre­ated the na­tional park sys­tem; and Richard Nixon, who founded the EPA.

“I want to as­sure you, I’m re­ally not that par­ti­san of a guy,” Mr. Obama told sup­port­ers in Texas last week.

Mr. Bern­stein said the pres­i­dent’s ex­am­ples il­lus­trate how he doesn’t grasp the con­cept of com­pro­mis­ing with present-day Repub­li­cans.


Pres­i­dent Obama’s in­abil­ity to work with Repub­li­cans means that he’s un­likely to score even one sig­nif­i­cant leg­isla­tive achieve­ment dur­ing the fi­nal years of his pres­i­dency.

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