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July 31, 2013 1:45 PM Proposing Doomed “Bargains”

By Ed Kilgore

The speed (and predictability) of the rejection by Republican congressional leaders of the president’s proposed “bargain” on corporate tax reform and jobs-creation spending is naturally leading some observers to wonder: why did Obama bother?

One theory is that he hopes the “centrist” faction of Senate Republicans that supported comprehensive immigration reform and helped fend off the “nuclear option” could split with the leadership and make Senate passage of a “bargain” possible. But even if that were feasible (and John McCain rained on that particular parade yesterday), it wouldn’t cut much ice with the House.

But the better question is raised by Paul Waldman at TAP: what else is Obama supposed to do?

It isn’t as though there’s some practical course of action Obama can take that would produce the government activity he’d like to see, and he’s choosing to propose failed bargains instead. For instance, one of the things Obama would like is a new round of spending on infrastructure, something that would produce jobs immediately and provide long-term economic benefits as well. But Republicans in Congress won’t allow it. So what are his options? This is not an area where he can just issue an executive order to get what he wants. So he can either just forget about it, or he can make a bunch of speeches saying that it would be great if we could invest in infrastructure, without presenting it in the context of some kind of bargain. Or he can do what he did: offer to consent to a Republican priority if they’ll agree to some infrastructure investments. If none of the three is going to produce new infrastructure investments, at least the third will produce some small political benefit by showing how intransigent the Republicans are. That raises by some (admittedly very small) amount the possibility of Democrats taking back the House in 2014, the sine qua non of progress on this or almost any other problem.

Some Democrats probably would prefer that Obama stop pretending agreement with the GOP is possible, and just spend the balance of his second term (which, we sometimes forget, only began just over six months ago) on the attack. I strongly suspect he will get more openly partisan as the midterm elections approach (just as he did when the presidential election grew near last year), but Waldman’s right: the public has to be constantly reminded who is making constructive proposals to meet the nation’s challenges and who is just saying “No!”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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