Obama Will Have Last Laugh
Before the midterm elections, early fall 2010, President Obama sent clear signals that he would concede his campaign promise and go ahead and extend the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 a year. A broken promise that, at the time, some thought unforgivable.
The consensus opinion from Democratic politicians and pundits alike was that Obama had shown his cards too early, left himself with no leverage. Obama stated back in 2009, “You don’t raise taxes in a recession. We haven’t raised taxes in a recession.” And now he was throwing the left, his own, under the bus. And for what? Few gave him the benefit of the doubt even though he passed, with the 2009 Stimulus, a package that included tax-cuts for 95% of working families.
Part of the frustration with the President was that this was taking place during a lame duck session, a time most observers freely admit is tough to pass any sort of meaningful legislation. Some felt that since the Democrats controlled the House, Senate and the Oval office, a stronger, more aggressive president would have been able to push through a progressive agenda.
So, the knives were out. Like now, the president was taking criticism from both sides. The GOP, although it was well known that they’d get the Bush tax-cuts extension, still seemed heartless to some. On Nov 18, 2010, House Republicans blocked a bill that would have extended long-term unemployment benefits.
Despite the criticism, the President extended the Bush tax cuts. Some, certainly not many, gave him a pass, asserting that this is what we should expect from him. As Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) explained to Politico:
“What you are seeing now is what he always wanted to be. In his heart, he’s a pragmatist, not an ideologue, and he’s a lot more personally comfortable with being able to engage Republicans and not be as divisive.”
But after months of being told how Obama was getting his clocked cleaned, what other legislation did Obama pass during the 2010 lame duck session?
- Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: The repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
- START: Nuclear-arms reduction agreement with Russia.
- Health bill for 9/11 first responders.
- A food safety bill.
- Middle-class tax cuts.
- Extension of jobless benefits
- Child nutrition bill.
“Nobody expected it to be this productive,” said NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro.
Fast forward to today. Both sides are unhappy, angry, up in arms with what the President is supposedly proposing. Sound familiar? I can’t help harkening back to late fall, early winter 2010 while I watch this debt ceiling debacle drone on and on. But, when it was reported that the individual mandate was being discussed, that the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act had crept into these negotiations? This was my moment of clarity.
It’s Speaker of the House John Boehner who appears to be getting his clock cleaned this time. And unlike Obama during the 2010 lame duck session, I don’t think there’s a way out for him. I’m more certain now that President Obama will be laughing last when this debt ceiling ordeal is finally over. Boehner is in salvage mode. He wants something, anything that will placate the Tea Party folks. No matter if it’s hollow and meaningless. It has been widely reported that the individual mandate will be close to impossible to enforce, nor does the Obama Administration wish to enforce it. It’s equivalent to jaywalking — everyone gets away with it. This seems like a pure fluff, no substance ploy. Boehner is trying to come away with a bone to toss to Rep. Cantor, who can then run back to his Tea Party constituents and say, “Lookie here. Lookie what I got!!”
Bottom line: it may be unwise to underestimate this president. Don’t be surprised if we see him play this game – strike some kind of deal that looks, on the face of it, like a huge Republican victory. For example: give up the individual mandate. But then we come to find out, in the fine print, was it huge after all?… Umm, not so much.