New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes appeared on a panel discussion on “The Role of Minority Party in Congress” held at the Wilson International Center for Scholars on Monday, and outlined four liberal complaints against Republicans for not sufficiently accommodating Barack Obama early in his presidency (when they were distinctly the minority party and rather powerless) on his allegedly moderate measures like health reform and financial regulation.
Blaming Republicans for Obama’s woes ignores the fact that the Democrats had just won huge filibuster-proof majorities in 2008. The party controlled the Senate by a 60-40 margin and the House of Representatives by a health 257-178. And conservatives would argue that Obama’s claims of bipartisanship were severely overstated and amounted to trying to pick off individual Republicans to get on board with his sweeping liberal agenda on stimulus and health care “reform,” instead of reaching out to the Republican caucus as a whole with more moderate and modest proposals.
Talking on the panel Monday, aired by C-SPAN, about the need for political accommodation in Congress, Calmes took “the risk of sounding like I’m expressing an opinion" in her closing remarks, about an hour and ten minutes into the discussion:
But I think we are in danger or we’ve already taken it too far, and I’m going to go out on a limb, at the risk of sounding like I’m expressing an opinion. If there’s one time I think people should accommodate each other, it’s in times of national crisis. I think the period from late 2008 to early 2009 was just such a period. And I just want to give four examples as to where I think the Republicans did not accommodate or at least try to--you can, and we can all stipulate that the Democrats didn’t go far enough, that Barack Obama, despite some initial outreach, seemed to, in part encouraged by his party, decide there was nothing in it and he might as well, just like Clinton decided in his first year, to just go it alone. But think about the things that have been issues in this election.
Stimulus. The stimulus bill. The first person to put on the map that we needed a big stimulus was none other than Martin Feldstein, the chairman of Ronald Reagan’s council of economic advisors. On Halloween Day I remember in the Washington Post, he wrote that we needed $300 billion in pure spending. No tax cuts. Nobody on the Democratic Party had said anything approaching that. And so by the time then the economy is getting worse by the week. So by the time Democrats came in they were looking at something on the scale of a trillion dollars, but they made one-third of it tax cuts, in part because Barack Obama I think many people have argued to me made the mistake of negotiating with himself, thinking, that if I put these, instead of letting Republicans put the tax cuts in the stimulus, he put them in and then didn’t want to go much further. They threw in the AMT relief for Chuck Grassley and a lot of good that did them.
But then the health care bill. People talk about government takeover and how this was a liberal bill. Well, just ask the liberals how liberal it was. But I covered the ‘94 health care debate. The bill that passed is so similar to, well, you don’t have to take my word for it, they’ll tell you. Republicans in the Senate, Bob Dole, John Chafee, and 21 other Senate Republicans cosponsored a bill that’s practically--with an individual mandate. That was their alternative to the Democrats’ employer mandate.
The fiscal commission. You have the McConnell Seven, where Mitch McConnell and seven others Republicans in the Senate who had once cosponsored the idea of a fiscal commission, voted against it when it was the idea of the Democrats.
And financial regulation. Again, an arguably moderate bill, just ask the liberal Democrats, and one that, you know, I think there was some work in the Senate, could have been more involving Republicans. But I know from two Republican senators that when, on the Banking Committee, that when they thought they had a deal, they were called into Mitch McConnell’s office and reined in. So I’m just, I just think that this has been a period that sort of worries me for the future when I see the kind of decisions that the fiscal commission has illustrated by its package we’re going to have to be making in the next few years.”