The debacle that resulted from President Obama's negotiations with the Republican leadership is extremely complicated. Examining each vote and action by the Democrats in both Houses and assigning a significance to that vote and action would take the skills of a first-class investigative journalist with the resources and staff needed to do the interviewing of Democratic members of Congress and the Senate.
I don’t have those resources, so those interested in the rise and fall of President Obama will have to wait until some individual writer is stirred to do a book or a major media facility – one of the great newspapers – assigns an appropriate staff to examine the torturous road that brought President Obama to extraordinary heights. He won the presidency by defeating a gifted old pro, Hillary Clinton, whom I supported. Ultimately he was brought to his political knees by his inability to successfully govern. Has a tin ear and appointed a staff that left him vulnerable to a far greater degree than anyone could have imagined.
What the President would call his major legislative success – passage of the comprehensive health care legislation –– could also be called his first major failure. I supported its passage because I wanted written into law the concept of universal medical care. However, instead of finding ways to cover the 32 million people he ultimately added to the system, he embarked upon a year and a half program to reinvent the wheel, endangering the coverage of the millions more who had insurance policies they liked. Yet, by taxing what his staff referred to as the “gold plated” insurance contracts that many of us had paid for with our own monies, Obama Care jeopardized the entire reform. The major achievements of preventing insurance companies from rejecting those with prior major medical conditions or terminating or not renewing contracts, as important as they were, did not assuage the fear that we who liked our policies were in danger of losing our protection.
So what should have become a monumental achievement on his part became instead a liability. A majority of the country’s citizens oppose the Obama healthcare legislation now the law of the land. That failure set the stage for President Obama’s taking a shellacking at the polls, losing 63 House seats and six Senate seats in the 2010 Congressional election.
What bothered the supporters of the president most about his leadership of the Democratic Party in the negotiations that involved him and the Senate leadership was that legislation that was perceived as Democratic signature legislation was never adequately fought for or defended by the President. When the Republican leadership threatened a filibuster – 60 votes being needed in the Senate to defeat one, with the Democrats having only 56 votes, the Democratic leadership including the president, folded, withdrawing the contested measures the Democrats wanted to pass, e.g., having a single-payer option in the comprehensive insurance legislation, restoration of income tax rates for those earning over $250,000 or enacting the Schumer compromise (those earning over a million), extension of unemployment insurance benefits for the now two million Americans for whom such insurance was running out, and many more legislative items.
What the Democratic members of Congress, particularly those who had survived the election debacle, wanted the President to do was exercise his leadership to bring those measures to the floor, dare the Republicans to filibuster and force Republican Senators to physically be present keeping the Senate Chamber in session 24 hours a day at least until the end of the year and perhaps do so next year as well, since the Democrats still have a majority in the Senate this year and next.
The President declined to do so and, with the Democratic Senate leadership, caved to the simple threat of filibuster. Obama apparently hoped to be seen as a new President, now willing to meet with his Republican adversaries, whom he had spurned, selling out to the latter by extending the Bush tax cuts on those making $250,000 for the next two years. In exchange, he got an extension of unemployment insurance for 13 months and a host of tax cutting measures such as a reduction in Fica (payroll) taxes for one year.
It offends me and anyone I’ve talked with to have the president’s defenders prattle he pressured the Republicans to accept his tax cuts. No one believes that the Republican leadership had to be pummeled to agree to the Obama tax cuts. The Republican leadership probably jumped with joy at the request, hoping he would request even more tax cut proposals, no matter the jeopardy to the nation’s economic stability and addition to the national debt.
It is unheard of for Democrats to refuse in such a concerted way to support a Democratic president’s request, as the House caucus did last week, with all but one voting down a resolution to support Obama’s agreement with the Republicans.
The New York Times of December 13th reported “While Democrats held on to the Senate, the sentiment is not much different across the Rotunda, though Democratic senators appear more resigned to the compromise on taxes.” The Times also reported, “Reluctant House Democrats predicted that the package would be approved before Congress adjourns this year, as days of rage and frustration began giving way to resignation and acceptance.”
Politics is the most fluid of professions. No one is ever out until the election is over. We all believe anyone can recover and become successful. Are we witnessing a Greek tragedy?
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989. His e-mail address is: email@example.com