Just three days after his 2009 Inauguration, President Obama invited House Republicans to the White House to talk about how he might incorporate their ideas into the then-unwritten stimulus bill. At that meeting, Minority Whip, Eric Cantor, distributed a five-point stimulus plan that included tax cuts for the poorest Americans, tax cuts for small businesses, no taxes on unemployment benefits, and a new home-owner tax credit. These policies were not unlike those implemented by Chancellor Angela Merckel as part of Germany’s successful response to the recession.
According to Bob Woodward’s book, The Price of Politics, Eric Cantor’s proposals met a scorched earth partisan black-out from the Oval office:
Obama told Cantor, ‘I can go it alone…Look at the polls. The polls are pretty good for me right now. Elections have consequences, And, Eric, I won.’ Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was even more frank: ‘We have the votes. F–k ’em.’ As a result, Obama’s final stimulus bill had zero Republican ideas in it. Not surprisingly, it also got zero Republican votes. The tone for Obama’s presidency had been set: all partisan scorched earth all the time. And its been that way ever since.” Conn Carroll, ‘The two defining moments of Obama’s presidency’, Sunday Examiner, December 2, 2012
Obama then received a second chance. He won re-election. For the first time since 2009, Republicans on Capitol Hill were willing to work with him. President Obama, as I suggested in yesterday’s column, is not an intellectually gifted man. Like many individuals struggling out of their depth, they fall back on old tricks, whether those tricks worked before or not.
So Obama fell back on an old trick: partisan scorched earth. He no longer had Rahm Emanuel at his side to deliver the message in the language of the gutter. So he turned to Timothy Geithner – a man whose intellectual ability just about matches his own – to stamp aggressively on those Republican fingers desperately holding on to the top of the fiscal cliff.
“Not only did Geithner’s offer ask for $1.6 trillion in tax hikes (double what Obama campaigned on); not only did Geithner ask for new stimulus spending; not only did Geithner ask for an extension of ’emergency’ unemployment benefits; but he also asked for an infinite increase in the debt limit. That was the last piece of leverage Republicans had. ” Conn Carroll, ibid.
So there we have it folks. Scorched earth all over again, albeit this time from a President who does not have all the votes. History tells us that unintelligent leaders do not bargain. They pursue their own will to the bitter end. King James II of England was such a one; and things ended badly for him. By all accounts King Louis XVI of France was another; with a yet worse outcome.
If Barack Obama refuses to bargain, and forces the GOP to choose between the fiscal cliff and imposing higher taxes on the most productive members of society, there will be no revolution. Heads will surely not roll. But the United States will suffer from a further four years of gridlock:
“that is all Obama will get. He’ll get no entitlement reform now, No individual or corporate tax reform either. the rest of the second-term Obama agenda is also DOA. It is going to be all partisan scorched earth all the time, again, for four more years. Obama will have changed Washington. But for the worse.” Conn Carroll, ibid.