All eyes will be on the White House Friday afternoon as President Obama hosts a post-election summit with congressional leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the all-but-certain new Senate Majority Leader.
Within a day of the Republicans’ election sweep on Tuesday, the ebullient Republican leaders and a shell-shocked, slightly chastened president began circling one another. They were trying to figure out where to go from here and probing to see whether there is some basis for bipartisan deal making before events are overtaken by the 2016 presidential campaign.
As these leaders prepare to gather today for the first time since the Republicans’ wave election victory, we humbly offer the following unsolicited observations and advice:
To: President Obama, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker John Boehner
Re: The 114th Congress
First off, let us say that we’re all really pleased that you guys are coming together today to talk about moving forward and addressing the country’s business in a spirit of bipartisanship and public service.
Because honestly, the first two days after the election weren’t very encouraging.
President Obama, you began your post-election press conference by congratulating the Republicans on a well-run campaign before immediately denigrating it by pointing out that two-thirds of the electorate hadn’t bothered to cast a ballot on Tuesday.
Then you pledged to move forward, with or without Congress, with executive action on immigration reform and controversial negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, both huge hot buttons for congressional Republicans—and for many Americans. That’s not exactly reaching across the aisle.
And don’t think we missed your not-so-veiled digs at Speaker Boehner, which you couched in praise of Sen. McConnell’s ability to “deliver” on his promises and to make “realistic assessments” of his caucus. We all know the Speaker has had trouble managing his fractious caucus, but this might not be the best time to rub his nose in it.
Look, you lost the election. Handle it with grace, trim your sails and move on.
Senator McConnell, in all likelihood, you’ll be running the Senate in the New Year when you supplant your arch rival, Majority Leader Harry Reid. When you say something, it would be useful if people thought you actually meant it. Last week, you told Fox News in very plain language that full repeal of Obamacare wasn’t going to happen in the 114th Congress. On Wednesday, in your post-election press conference, you made the same point.
But Thursday morning, we all woke to find a Wall Street Journal op-ed that you co-authored with Speaker Boehner saying you plan to “honor the voters’ trust” by “renewing our commitment to repeal Obamacare.”
If you know it’s not going to happen as long as President Obama is in office with the power to veto – and you do – please stop promising to do it. And by the way, polls show that Americans are evenly divided between wanted the law repealed or simply changed—and 15 percent want to keep it in tact.
While we’re on the subject of Obamacare, would you and Speaker Boehner both please acknowledge that eliminating the individual mandate is not just some sort of tweak you can make to the Affordable Care Act? You’re smart guys. You know eliminating the individual mandate is tantamount to repeal. It’s not like changing the paint job on a car; it’s more like ripping out the engine.
Finally, Speaker Boehner. Your press conference at the Capitol yesterday didn’t exactly strike a tone of cooperation, did it? Your basic message seemed to be that the president should do … nothing. That he should step back and let the Republican Congress vote to eliminate his signature health care accomplishment. That he should pigeon-hole his threatened executive order to free millions of illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation and give House Republicans another bite at the apple, even though they refused to address the issue for two full years after you identified it as an issue that “has been around too long.”
While you conceded that it is once again "time to deal with" immigration, you warned that the president was playing with fire in threatening unilateral action and that it would "poison the well" for legislation.
Maybe you think Tuesday’s election results are a mandate from voters directing you to plunge back into the exact same partisan fights that so disgusted them through all of 2013 and 2014. It seems unlikely, though. Exist polls indicated that many voters were even more contemptuous of the congressional Republicans than the president – but were willing to experiment by turning the keys to the Capitol over to the GOP for the next two years.
Putting all that aside, let’s look at a handful of areas where it might be profitable to start seriously looking for common ground. You’ve all talked about establishing trust, and working together toward mutual, achievable goals has got to be the best way to start.
From every indication, dealing with ISIS is going to be a years-long problem, and the administration is currently taking action based on a pair of congressional authorizations that are 12 and 13 years old, respectively.
There is basic agreement on the need to stabilize Iraq and eliminate, or at least neutralize, ISIS as a threat. Now that the election is over, and there’s no longer a need to treat every difference of opinion about how to do the job as a compromise of national security, there has got to be a way to come together on this.
To his credit, the president has already begun the compromise process by dropping his prior assertion that he didn’t need further congressional authorization for the stepped up airstrikes and related military action in Iraq and Syria.
Americans were shocked by the videos showing the beheading of two Americans journalists. Really, if you guys can’t agree on authorizing the U.S. military to take out the most reviled terrorist group in the world, there’s not much hope for anything else.
Here’s something everybody ought to be able to get behind. Infrastructure projects – new highways, bridges, transit systems and the like – are good for business, and they create jobs. They stimulate the economy now and they keep it running smoothly into the future.
Better still, as the strongest economy in the industrialized world right now, the U.S. can borrow to finance infrastructure at interest rates that are historically low.
Okay, okay. Yes, we said, “borrow.” Maybe that’s just not feasible right now for a Republican Congress because it would add to the national debt. But there are other options.
One of the most high-profile members of the Republican Party right now, Sen. Rand Paul, has been making the rounds calling for a change in the way business income is taxed in order to entice companies to “repatriate” profits they are holding overseas.
This is a tough sell not because people don’t think the business tax code needs changing. Everybody does. It’s hard because people see this as one of the elements that will push Republicans to accept other changes to the tax code as part of a larger, comprehensive tax reform package.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. Do you guys really think you’ll be able to manage a full-on comprehensive tax reform bill in the foreseeable future? No? Yeah, neither do we.
Here’s a win for all three of you. The president wants greater freedom to negotiate trade deals. The Republicans want him to have that authority.
The stumbling block here is congressional Democrats, many of whom are concerned that some trade deals hurt U.S. workers by opening them to competition with low-wage workers in other nations.
You want to establish good will and trust between the White House and Republican leaders? This has something for everybody. The president asks Congress for something, and Congress gives it to him. Plus, the President demonstrates to Republicans in Congress that he isn’t completely beholden to the wishes of congressional Democrats.
So there you have it. Three areas where the White House and Republicans are already in substantial agreement, and could conceivably work together quickly and cooperatively to demonstrate to the American people that gridlock is not the permanent state of affairs in the U.S. – unless one side or the other decides it suits their party’s long-term strategy heading into the 2016 presidential campaign.
It’s not the New Deal. It’s not the 1986 Tax Reform package. But it would be something, and that’s a whole lot more than what the “Do-Nothing” 113th Congress delivered.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times:
- Four Little Words That Could Kill Obamacare
- Election 2014: How the Media Helped the GOP Walk Away with the Midterms
- Midterms Marked by Low Turnout – But Not Everywhere