As we stumble to the end of the year, the lingering image in my mind from that past twelve months is how divided the country appears to be and how difficult it has become to govern.
The Republicans appear to have adopted a scorched earth strategy regarding the Obama administration. They are going to stand in opposition to everything that this administration attempts to accomplish in the hopes that it will improve their changes to regain some of the power that they lost in the 2008 (was it only a year ago) elections.
As evidence of how single-minded this opposition is, the Republicans threatened to hold up a defense department spending bill which could have forced the defense department to close down in an effort to exert some leverage in the health care debate They have also asked that amendments be read aloud in the chamber simply to delay the inevitable vote that they were destined to lose and then criticized the resulting vote because it occurred in the wee hours of the morning.
If this were producing better legislation through some sort of tough bargaining, I could accept that these tactics are serving the American people. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
The result of this tactic is that the path to 60 votes without Republican participation, gives a few senators inordinate power. Though this could be viewed as an exercise in old-fashion politics, it also ended up twisting this bill in ways that did not benefit the greater good.
So rather than work to make the bill better, the Republican opposition has in fact made the bill worse and they appear poised to take credit for that effort.
Now you can say that this is how business gets done in the Congress, but the facts simply don’t support that view. In the 1960’s, filibusters were threatened on only 8% of the legislation that was introduced – famously civil rights legislation being the predominant target. In the 1980’s that rose to 27%. Since 2006 when the Democrats regained control of Congress, the Republicans have threatened to filibuster 70% of the bills that were introduced.
The Republicans have countered that this must be a uniquely Democratic problem, since they were able to accomplish quite a bit during the Bush years. That claim doesn’t actually ring true when you look a little closer.
Mr. Bush never asked the Congress or the American people to pay for any of his initiatives. His tax cuts were not balanced by spending cuts, in fact much the opposite. He hid the cost of his wars from the public. He gave the pharmaceutical companies a big bonus through an expensive Medicare drug benefit that remains unfunded. It was a congressional feeding frenzy where both Democrats and Republicans got fat.
The only surprise is that the Republicans are now characterizing Democratic spending proposals where funding is fully disclosed and scored by the CBO as irresponsible.
Now that it appears that health care insurance reform will pass, we’ll get a chance to see if the Republicans will be able to capitalize on their strategy.
The economy appears to be in recovery, though job growth remains anemic.
The housing market is reviving in part due to historically low prices and interest rates. Foreclosures remain a serious problem that is now the result of unemployment rather than bad loans.
Many of the biggest companies that received federal funds early in the year have paid the government back.
The stock market just hit a fourteen month high.
The dollar just hit a three month high.
Crime is at the lowest point it has been since the ’60’s.
We are making progress on climate control issues, though Republicans appear determined to deny that a problem exists.
Our international standing is on the upswing. We were able to salvage the recent climate talks because of President Obama’s willingness to negotiate directly with the Chinese. We are making progress with Russia on pressuring Iran to curtail their nuclear ambitions. We are also making progress with Russia on our own treaty to reduce our respective weapons stock piles. Israel and Palestine are moving closer toward an agreement. We also had broad international support for our expansion of forces in Afghanistan.
President Obama has also demonstrated that he is up to the task of being the commander-in-chief and certainly takes his responsibility to protect the American people seriously.
Most importantly, 30M people who don’t have healthcare insurance because of cost or pre-existing conditions, will have an opportunity to purchase insurance that they can afford. I wonder how many of those people are going to vote for Republicans?