This afternoon will mark the first time that President Obama will be meeting with leaders from what will become the new Senate majority in the next Congress. Here are a few suggestions that may benefit discussions going forward.
- Acknowledge that your legacy is tied to how well the country does over the next two years.
Regardless of whether Republican obstructionism is real or whether it’s a story told to bad liberal children to get them to go to sleep, the reality is that two more years of inaction in Washington on even bipartisan issues will not bode well for the President’s desire to cement his legacy. History will likely not remember a Republican Congress but will certainly magnify prior failures of the administration if there is little in the way of history made over the next two years.
Therefore, the President should undertake to actually promote a few key issues where action (and I don’t mean executive orders that may or may not be rule by fiat) will have wide support and the President can look like a magnanimous compromiser.
This would be a moment of “only Nixon can go to China.” The President has, rightly or wrongly, been labeled as an aloof ideologue with no real interest in cooperation. A clearly laid out set of points where Congress and the President will work together will be extremely effective for the President’s legacy.
Also, take note that President’s are always thinking about their legacies. This is amplified when they see the end of their term fast approaching.
- Give in on the pipeline
Allowing the Keystone XL Pipeline legislation to go through would be a magnanimous gesture to Republicans. The Democrats in Congress were apparently far more opposed than the Whitehouse. The pipeline has broad support across the country. This is a fight no longer worth having.
- Propose changes to Obamacare
Republicans will, at some point, get a bill to the President’s desk repealing Obamacare. This is different than all of the other bills that died in the Senate. This one will have come from both houses. The President will veto it. The President has enough support in Congress that his veto will not be overridden.
Knowing this ahead of time, there is no reason not to try to address some concerns with the Affordable Care Act rather than have Republicans take the inevitable next step and being to defund Obamacare through tying measures to spending bills. Yes, the rhetoric that the Republicans are tying national security or welfare checks to partisan repeals is probably going to be an effective talking point, but, in the end, Republicans will stall or damage the implementation of the law to such a degree that the general public sentiment will remain against the law and Republican presidential candidates in 2016 (but, remember, they will be reaching the height of their campaigns in the last year of Mr. Obama’s term) will pick up a great deal of steam off of Democrat intransigence.
A real olive branch on the issue would be putting forward, through surrogates in Congress, a bill aimed at addressing some of the more unpopular parts of the law and allowing for additional Congressional oversight. In this regard, you can effectively say later that you gave more administrative power to Congress and that any resulting unpopularity from the law’s absurdly high costs can be attributable to Congress. This measure is a short term win for Republicans and preserves the President’s ability to move his legacy forward.
- Don’t use tyranny as a threat
Already the President has proposed using “executive action” to allow for de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants. While many of the President’s supporters like to see a President whose clear milquetoast approach to important decisions is widely condemned, take a strong stand, taking such a stand through dubious quasi-Constitutional authority undermines the strength of the President’s position. If he contends that his policy would be the best for the country and for immigrant families, such an idea should move through the legislature and have popular input.
The additional concern, from a liberty perspective, is that power begets the craving for more power. While I refuse to make a slippery slope argument that two years will reduce the United States to a banana republic, I do contend that the abuse of executive action significantly weakens an already weak legislature and grows the power and prestige of the presidency. This is neither an appropriate nor constitutional development. The reality may be that the President simply does not care and that the appearance of strength is precisely his intention. If this is the case, there is really nothing effective that can be done aside from Congress stepping up to the plate and asserting its authority to oversee the executive departments.
To conclude, I am not optimistic that any of these suggestions will be heeded (despite the fact that there will be a rush to the microphones and politicians will say that they look forward to working with the President etc.). However, wisdom and foresight dictate that such agreements would likely be the best for America.