New York Times columnist David Brooks made the unconvincing case that President Obama has faced so much partisan gridlock because he "offered a conventional Democratic agenda." In reality, Obama has often offered compromise proposals, but his would-be negotiating partners vowed on the day the president took office to ruthlessly oppose Obama's agenda.
Brooks wrote that a truly effective president must be a "craftsman" who gets legislation passed through compromise:
[T]he craftsman has to understand that stylistic pragmatism has to be accompanied by substance pragmatism. Barack Obama really wanted to move beyond stale battle lines. But he offered a conventional Democratic agenda. If you want to break the partisan stagnation, you have to come up with an unexpected policy agenda that will scramble the categories. You have to mix proposals from columns A and B.
In fact, Obama has repeatedly offered compromise proposals. For instance:
- Obama's signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is based on legislation originally written by Republicans and is nearly identical to the plan Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts. The bill incorporated 161 Republican amendments and did not include a public option, which Democrats had long supported. Nevertheless, Republicans did not support the bill.
- More than one-third of the 2009 Recovery Act (commonly called the stimulus) consisted of tax cuts. Nevertheless, most Republicans refused to support the final bill.
- Obama's American Jobs Act contained many proposals that originally came from Republicans. Nevertheless, Senate Republicans blocked the proposal.
- After initially arguing that the Bush tax cuts should be extended for most Americans but should expire for the wealthiest Americans, in 2010 Obama cut a deal with Republicans extending all of the Bush tax cuts.
- After negotiating a deal with Obama in 2011 to raise the debt ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that he got 98 percent of what he wanted.
But Republicans have engaged in what congressional experts say are historic levels of obstruction. And Republicans' own statements show that this obstruction is no accident.
As reporter Robert Draper has detailed, on the very day of Obama's inauguration, Republican leaders held a secret meeting to work out how best to block Obama's agenda. Part of the plan involved showing "united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies." Also in 2009, Republican Senator Jim DeMint (SC) encouraged supporters to oppose efforts to reform health care in order to make health care reform Obama's "Waterloo."
Furthermore, in 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the "single most important thing" Republicans want to achieve "is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
It is only by ignoring all of this evidence that Brooks could conclude that Obama would have been more effective if only he had compromised a little more.