Given the media’s fawning coverage of President Obama’s first 100 days and the rock star image he projects to adoring crowds at his campaign pep rallies, er, “listening tour” events, you’d think conservatives stood alone in opposition to Obama’s agenda.
But you’d be wrong. The GOP has been labeled the party of “no,” but increasingly there are signs of dissent from within the president’s own party. Obama has a moderate demeanor. He’s cool, calm and collected, as we are constantly reminded. But his agenda is ambitiously liberal. This is just fine for the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, but it’s provoking conspicuous pushback from Democrats who represent conservative and moderate districts and states.
Last week, the Democratic-controlled Senate defeated an Obama-backed bill that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to rewrite the terms of mortgage contracts. Labeled the “cram-down” bill, the legislation was benefit homeowners who got in over their heads at the expense of homeowners who signed mortgages they could afford. If passed, the new law would have raised mortgage borrowing costs. A dozen Democrats voted against the bill, which was voted down 45-51.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The vote today was a bipartisan rejection of an interest rate hike, which is exactly the wrong solution for jobs, homeowners and the economy.” Democrat Ben Nelson, who voted against the bill, said, “[It] sounds real good, but I don’t think anyone in the mortgage industry can determine what they have if a judge comes and changes things.”
The Democratic Party is also mired in infighting over “cap and trade” legislation. The Obama administration and liberal Democrats want a bill that would set a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases companies are allowed to emit while letting those companies buy and sell permits to pollute only specific amounts. Middle America does not want “cap and trade,” because it amounts to a big tax on energy and would send manufacturing jobs overseas.
The scheme sounds perfectly reasonable to many Democrats from the coasts. During the campaign, Obama admitted that “cap and trade” would cause energy prices to “sky-rocket” and bankrupt the coal industry, which provides 50 percent of our electricity. But it is causing considerable strife among Democrats from industrial and coal-producing states.
Liberal Michigan Democrat John Dingell recently called “cap and trade” a “great big tax.” He said, “Nobody, nobody in this country realizes that cap-and-trade is a tax and it’s a great big one. I want to get a bill that works.”
This week brought perhaps the strongest Democratic rebuke of the president. The House of Representatives dropped an Obama administration request for $50 million to relocate prisoners from the terrorist detention center at GuantÃ?Â¡namo Bay, Cuba.
In January, Obama signed an executive order to close Gitmo within a year, but the administration had no clue what it was going to do with the roughly 240 terror suspects there. Europe doesn’t want them, and the Pentagon estimates that between 50 and 100 are likely to end up in the United States.
But the prospect of releasing terrorist suspects onto U.S. soil, and perhaps placing some of them on the public dole, unsurprisingly has not been embraced by Republicans or many Democrats. Obama had sought $80 million to begin the process of closing the facility, but Democratic House Appropriations Chairman David Obey left the funds out of a larger $94.4 billion war funding bill, complaining that the administration needed first to develop a clear plan to shutter the prison and relocate the prisoners. “When they have a plan, they’re welcome to come back and talk to us,” Obey said.
These examples underscore one of Obama’s central challenges. He would like to enact his liberal agenda. But even with 60 Democrats in the Senate and a huge majority in the House, he’s finding it difficult to rally Democrats whose constituents are less than excited about policies that punish responsible home owners, elevate questionable science over the livelihood of millions of Americans and allow enemy combatants to move in next door. Go figure.
What’s more, Obama’s Senate majority may be softer than it looks considering his 59th senator, Arlen Specter, is being treated as a pariah by other Democrats, and his 60th, Al Franken, isn’t even seated yet.
Don’t get me wrong. President Obama is still in the driver’s seat, and many of his initiatives will end up passing. Polls show him personally as popular as ever.
But polls also show that the president’s agenda is not nearly as popular as he is. In many cases, strong majorities of Americans reject his signature policies. To take just one example, a recent Rasmussen poll found only 36 percent of voters support closing Gitmo. And three in four oppose releasing detainees into the United States, including 64 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents.
Democratic resistance to Obama’s agenda provides a lesson to Republicans: keep fighting and avoid defeatism. On many issues, there will be opportunities to forge alliances with moderate Democrats. Working together, Republicans and moderate Democrats will be able to water down, if not totally defeat, Obama’s most audacious initiatives.
Many voters believed Candidate Obama when he repeatedly pledged to usher into Washington a new era of bipartisanship. These voters were half right. President Obama is producing more and more bipartisanship. Only it’s a bipartisanship defined by opposition to the president’s radical agenda.