Of the Lame-Duck Congress and Obama’s Futile Efforts to Extend the Olive Branch to Republicans
Barely 24 hours after the bi-partisan summit between President Obama and GOP Congressional Leaders that many thought ended on affable, even promising terms, Mitch McConnell unveiled a letter purportedly signed by all 42 Republicans in the US Senate drawing a taut line in the sand on the legislative agenda for the few remaining weeks of the lame-duck session.
In the letter addressed to the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, McConnell and his colleagues vowed to block any attempt to vote on "any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers."
Citing what he viewed as an unambiguous repudiation of Obama policies by voters during the mid-terms, McConnell touted a position that seemed as impudent and preposterous as it was ludicrous: basically, that unless the Bush tax cuts set to expire on December 31 are extended for everyone, including his wealthy friends and financiers, he would champion an effort to obstruct the work of conducting the ordinary business of the people.
This signifies a guaranteed GOP “NO” to a slew of crucial policy intitiatives that run the gamut: extension of unemployment benefits that interestingly ended for millions of working class Amercan families almost the same exact day that McConnell presented his letter; the START nuclear arms treaty with Russia; the DREAM act that offers a path to citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants who having been in this country since infancy, practically have no other country to call their own; and a repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
What seems lost on McConnell and his demented band of right-wing neo-cons is that resorting to these sorts of extortionary tactics is primarily emblematic of an orientation that is not only self-destructive, extreme and non-centrist but lacking in any semblances of forward-thinking leadership.
But the critical question remains how willing Obama and Democratic Congressional Leaders are to, yet again, allow Republicans to take them down an all-too-familiar path of despoliation and destruction.
The thing that is clear is that Republicans are already successfully framing the debate to a point of over-simplification and obfuscation while artfully playing to their base.
The new Republican Speaker-in-waiting, John Boehner, chided the lame-duck Congress today to “vote immediately to cut spending and stop all the tax hikes." He reportedly ended with the threat that if it fails to, then "the new House majority” under his leadership “will act in January;" a threat that Boehner and anyone modestly informed about the US legislative process obviously knows he really couldn’t possibly deliver on since the Senate would still be in safe Democratic control.
Nonetheless, it really would be a terrible mistake for anyone to characterize current Republican intransigence as some kind of a mulish, childlike temper tantrum. It is all very calculated; they are doing exactly that which has proven to yield very positive electoral results.
Democrats, on the other hand, are sounding increasingly concilliatory and acquiescent to Republican demands in a manner that is puzzlingly self-deprecating and immensely infuriating to their liberal constituency.
So, rather than stick to their guns on tax cuts, an issue that, apart from simply being bad policy, forces a sharp contrast between them and the other side regarding core commitments, more and more Democratic voices in Congress are floating a variety of ill-formed or premature alternative ideas for a temporary extension of tax relief for everyone.
It’s almost like the last two years of Republican obstructionism taught Democrats absolutely nothing.
While Obama, Reid, Hoyer and Polesi could hardly be fairly qualified as politically unsophisticated or naïve, I have to join millions in wondering what it would take for them to, like the Republicans, audaciously and unapologetically pursue their middle-class legislative agenda.
Being that Republicans have made it known in no unclear terms that legislatively, when the 112th Congress seats in January 2011, it will be gridlock, gridlock and more gridlock, the lame-duck Congress is undoutedly Democrats last chance to exploit the healthy majorities they still enjoy in both chambers in pushing through key legislative initiatives. I continue to be hopeful that they wont pass it up!