Thursday, December 18, 2014

President Obama to Congressional Republicans: Govern or Make Yourselves Irrelevant

A lot of pundits are noticing that since the midterm elections, President Obama has been the opposite of a "lame duck." Kevin Drum does a good job of summing up the significant actions this president has taken recently.
  • November 10: Surprised everyone by announcing his support for strong net neutrality. 
  • November 11: Concluded a climate deal with China that was not only important in its own right, but has since been widely credited with jumpstarting progress at the Lima talks last week. 
  • November 20: Issued an executive order protecting millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation. 
  • November 26: Signed off on an important new EPA rule significantly limiting ozone emissions.
  • December 15: Took a quiet victory lap as Western financial sanctions considerably sharpened the pain of Vladimir Putin's imploding economy. 
  • December 16: Got nearly everything he wanted during the lame duck congressional session, and more. Democrats confirmed all important pending nominees, and then got Republican consent to several dozen lesser ones as well. 
  • December 17: Announced a historic renormalization of relations with Cuba. 
This is all part of the pen and phone strategy he announced way back in January 2014.
President Barack Obama offered a brief preview Tuesday of his State of the Union address, telling his Cabinet that he won’t wait for Congress to act on key agenda items in 2014.

“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” he said at his first Cabinet meeting of the year. Outlining the strategy, Obama said he plans to use his pen to sign executive actions and his phone to convene outside groups in support of his agenda if Congress proves unable or unwilling to act on his priorities.
Combined with the signature legislative accomplishments of his first two years - the stimulus, health care reform and Wall Street reform - we are beginning to see the transformative nature of Barack Obama's presidency.

Come January 2015, what will be the response of the Republican majorities in Congress to these achievements? As Kevin Drum notes in that same article:
GOP leaders had plans for January, but now they may or may not be able to do much about them. Instead, they're going to have to deal with enraged tea partiers insisting that they spend time trying to repeal Obama's actions. They can't, of course, but they have to show that they're trying.
Its important to note why they can't repeal Obama's actions. That is first of all because this President has been careful to recognize where he has constitutional authority and where Congress must act. He hasn't crossed that line.

But perhaps even more importantly, the 2015 budget bill strips Republicans of their ability to hold the government hostage as their leverage in trying to force change on any of these matters for at least the next nine months. After that, we'll be in full 2016 campaign mode and its unlikely Republicans will want to initiate a government shutdown leading into the November presidential election.

The only alternative for Republicans at this point is to attach a repeal of any of these policies to something the Democrats want done, for example, comprehensive immigration reform. But the really interesting thing is...if they do that, we're back to the process of actual governing via negotiation. Oh my!!!!

What this all boils down to is that President Obama has given Congressional Republicans two options: Govern or make yourselves irrelevant. That's a major power play by our Community Organizer-in-Chief.

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