At this week's Republican National Convention, speakers will likely repeat an argument for firing President Obama that Paul Ryan first made on the day he was named Mitt Romney's running mate:
"In his first 2 years, with his party in complete control of Washington, he passed nearly every item on his agenda. But that didn't make things better."
Mitt Romney also made this argument, saying Obama's plan has "been executed over the last three and a half years. It hasn't worked."
For those who follow politics closely, this argument is easily debunked.
Republicans blocked the seating of Senator Al Franken for the first half-year of Obama's presidency and took Ted Kennedy's seat half a year later. They used the Senate filibuster to deny Americans the opportunity to see Obama's proposals enacted on jobs, pay equity for women, the Dream Act, climate change, and according to the Associated Press, an "astonishing" number of other issues.
However, for everyday voters, the Romney-Ryan argument that Obama got everything he wanted may sound more legitimate -- especially on the two economic accomplishments that Americans most associate with Obama's presidency: the stimulus and health care reform.
Ironically, President Obama is the one least able to make the case defending his top accomplishments from the Republican Party's core attack. That's because doing so would force him to admit that the accomplishments he is asking voters to ratify by re-electing him were not Democratic policies -- and were certainly not progressive ones. In fact, Republican obstruction led Obama to embrace unpopular Republican ideas benefitting big corporations in an ill-fated attempt to secure Republican support in Congress.
It falls on progressives to help voters see that if they don't like the current economy, Republicans ideas are the problem - not the solution.
The stimulus is a good case study of how Republican obstruction led to the enactment of bad Republican ideas.
In December 2008, progressive economists made the case for over $1 trillion in stimulus spending. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza reports:
Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate, was calling for a trillion. [Obama adviser Christina] Romer had run simulations of the effects of stimulus packages of varying sizes: six hundred billion dollars, eight hundred billion dollars, and $1.2 trillion [and] suggested that the package should probably be more than $1.2 trillion.
In a fashion typical of the Obama White House, they negotiated with themselves. A memo written to Obama by economic adviser Larry Summers "detailed only two packages," $550 billion and $890 billion. "Summers did not include Romer's $1.2-trillion projection."
The White House ultimately split the difference between those two already-watered-down numbers. Nobel economist Paul Krugman wrote, "Mr. Obama offers a $775 billion plan. And that's not enough." He added, "only about 60 percent of the Obama plan consists of public spending. The rest consists of tax cuts -- and many economists are skeptical... "
In other words, after a progressive proposal of $1.2 trillion in stimulus spending, and other White House proposals of $550 billion and $890 billion, the White House pre-emptively watered down their own stimulus-spending plan to $465 billion (60% of $775 billion) in an attempt to avoid a Senate Republican filibuster.
By Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's accounting of history, "Obama's plan" should have sailed through. But instead, every Republican Senator threatened to filibuster.
Ultimately, faux-moderates Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Arlen Spector agreed to break a Republican filibuster if $80 billion in spending was removed -- including $40 billion in aid to the states. (Paul Krugman blames this for about a million currently-unemployed teachers, police, and fire fighters. Also remember that the Wisconsin anti-union push was all fought over a $137 million budget shortfall.)
The bottom line: Americans never got to see a progressive stimulus vision enacted. Due to Republican obstruction, the stimulus that passed was not even the Obama stimulus vision. It was larded up with corporate tax cuts and other unpopular Republicans ideas that Republicans now gleefully peg to Obama.
The same holds true on health care. In 2008 and 2009, Obama promised a public option -- a progressive idea supported by 87 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Independents, and even 50 percent of Republican voters, according to a New York Times poll. In 2008, Obama actively campaigned against the unpopular Heritage Foundation idea of an individual mandate.
Once again, with Republican senators promising to filibuster, the White House negotiated with itself -- offering pre-emptive concessions to industry lobbyists in an attempt to get Republican support. New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick revealed "two deals... one with the hospitals and the other with the drug industry... the public option was not going to be in the final product." Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle confirmed this.
Recently-released emails show even more examples from the health care debate of the White House putting unpopular industry priorities ahead of popular progressive policies in an attempt to win Republican votes.
To his credit, President Obama is actively campaigning on his record -- in contrast to Mitt Romney. But in this campaign, President Obama cannot offer the very accurate argument that Republican obstruction led to his decision to abandon popular progressive priorities in favor of unpopular ideas from Republicans and industry. Ideas that he is now campaigning on.
Progressives are free to make that case. And ironically, if we do, Americans are more likely to toss aside Romney and Ryan's core argument for firing President Obama.
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