President Obama previewed his election year strategy during his 70-minute exchange with House Republicans at their retreat in Baltimore last week, telling Republicans they have no business obstructing his legislation because he’s adopting so many of their ideas.
His strategy will be to co-opt not only the rhetoric of the right, as he did during the campaign and last year, but also to show that he really is the leader in bipartisanship by adopting their policy initiatives into legislation.
Exhibit one: The president sounded baffled that Republicans won’t go along with his “moderate” health reform plan, arguing that it incorporates so many of their own ideas, such as allowing for inter-state purchase of health insurance, incentives for wellness, and small business health plans.
And he also is co-opting Republicans’ rhetoric on jobs. In a speech on Tuesday in Nashua, N.H., he said: “Jobs will be our number one focus in 2010. And we're going to start where most new jobs do – with small businesses. These are the companies that begin in basements and garages when an entrepreneur takes a chance on his dream, or a worker decides it's time she became her own boss.”
But the problem with these and other initiatives is that all of his solutions involve a huge injection of higher taxes and big government. With jobs, instead of a simple tax cut that would really rev up the engine of growth, he’s proposing a higher tax on big banks to recycle into a new $30 billion, government-run Small Business Lending Fund that offers juicy new opportunities to hand out political favors.
With health care, the president spent last year using the rhetoric of competition, choice, and “the freedom to keep the coverage you have now” in his pitch for ObamaCare. But the approach that Congress has taken is anything but “moderate.” In 2,000-plus pages of legislation, the consumer-friendly language morphs into big-government power grabs with Washington calling the shots.
The American people are on to the game, but the Republicans still have their work cut out for them.
During the Baltimore exchange, House GOP members achieved an important goal of demonstrating that they have good ideas which have been virtually ignored in the media over the last year. And they showed they have smart, informed members who can take on the president, one-on-one. But trying to find other opportunities to get in front of the media megaphone that is so dominated by the White House and Congress will be a challenge.
The White House went into full spin mode after Obama’s dialogue in Baltimore, saying that he showed his command of policy and his efforts at bipartisanship. Obama political advisor David Axelrod says he is looking for more opportunities like that.
But the president might want to work on his tone, which had a condescending edge as though he were trying to explain to these dull Republicans how really good his ideas are.
For example, when Rep. Tom Price, R-GA, held up a copy of his own health reform bill (coming in at a more modest 268 pages), Obama said he would have to check with his experts to see if it was any good. He failed to note that Dr. Price has 30 years experience as a physician, five years of experience in Congress, and serves as chairman of the House Republican Study Committee.
The president’s strategic shift reflects the reality that more and more Americans understand – and oppose – his big government ideas. Convincing them that he’s not an ideologue – as he claimed in Baltimore – will require not more speeches but real changes in his policies.
Published in the Washington Examiner, February 2, 2010.