Congressional Republicans saved the presidency of Bill Clinton 15 years ago, and now may do the same thing for Barrack Obama. A major move in this direction was the overwhelming Senate vote yesterday passing last week’s tax-cut compromise between Obama and congressional Republicans.
The Republicans in Congress have forced the post-2010-election president to endorse extending George W. Bush’s Reagan-style tax cuts. A bonus: Obama officials have adopted the Republican line that keeping the current rates for all, including the wealthy, will be good for the economy. Obama is now talking about pay freezes, tax reform and budget cuts, as he embarks on a two-year campaign to scramble back to the political center and get reelected.
“It’s an excellent agreement on behalf of millions of Americans who won’t see their taxes go up,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday.
It’s eerily similar to the winter winter of 1995. Clinton’s presidency is in shambles. He has lost both the House and Senate to the Newt Gingrich revolution. He goes into a funk, holding countless bull sessions to figure out what went wrong.
He had come out of the starting gate in 1993, pushing gays in the military and signing orders making abortions more available. He had masterminded what the GOP called the biggest tax hike in history, even targeting the elderly on Social Security. He pushed Obama-style stimulus spending, while his wife Hillary devised a massive health care bill so costly and complex that even House Democrats would not let it reach the floor for a vote.
The man from Hope, Ark., who ran on a middle-class income tax cut and then changed his mind at the White House, sank so low in the polls Time Magazine called him the shrinking president.
If Clinton had continued his ways, he surely would not have been a one-termer. But Clinton’s second two years saw a remarkable shift, from the left-wing wilderness to the conservative mainstream. Yes, he won points by slamming Republicans on the short government shut down. But there was no longer any talk of a health care takeover or a federal stimulus.
Instead, Republicans sent him a balanced budget resolution, and he signed it. They also passed a historic welfare reform bill, one Ronald Reagan would have celebrated. Clinton not only signed it, but later described the legislation as his greatest achievement.
More Republican bills got Clinton ink. He signed a capital gains tax cut. He bucked the gay rights lobby by OKing the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as one man and one woman. He signed free-trade bills against union opposition.
The dizzying amount of conservative bill signings included one stating: it was the policy of the United States to achieve regime change in Iraq. Later, Clinton would order the bombing of Iraq for five days and tell the nation Saddam Hussein still possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Republicans pulled Clinton so far right that, in his State of the Union Address before he won re-election, he declared, “The era of big government is over.”
Now, look at President Obama. He did not need weeks of soul-searching after he got shellacked in the 2010 election, losing the House and his big Senate majority. He came out of the box calling for a freeze on federal pay, angering the unions. Next, he signed on to the Reagan-esque Bush tax cuts, further angering his Left-wing base.
The new Republicans have not had to even take office to gain concessions from Obama as he, like Clinton, moves to rightward.
If Obama can get the tax cut deal through the lame-duck Congress, there is a chance small businesses will start hiring again. And if he signed on to expected House budget cuts, again, this has to help his standing with Wall Street. All this might well push the 9.8 percent unemployment rate in a downward direction, just what Obama needs to win re-election.
To boot, the tax cut debate has pitted the White House against the hard-Left in Congress, people such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an avowed socialist. This can only help Obama’s re-election as he, like Clinton, pits himself against the Left and the Right.
The Democratic-controlled Senate on Monday cleared way (83-15) to debate and pass the Bush tax cuts. In the House, liberal Democrats have howled their dissatisfaction. One reportedly used the F-word to express his dislike of the president.
But this week, their resistance seemed to wane as they focused more on changing Obama’s deal with Republicans on estate taxes, rather than stopping the entire package.
“The legislative process, as the president said today, is a series of taking some things you want and taking some things you don’t want because you think there’s a net plus in the action that you’re taking,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told NBC News on Monday. “So I think that’s what happened in the Senate. I think that may well happen and probably will happen in the House.”
Even before his tax cut deal, Obama had more quietly embraced policies of his predecessor, even while bashing George W. Bush as the worst president ever.
Remember Obama’s firm pledge to close Guantanamo Bay as a prison for some of the worst murderers in history. It would be all so easy to remove what White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan (there are no Islamic terrorists) convinced himself was the reason fanatics attacked us.
Today, the White House has stopped talking about closing the prison. Democrats are drafting a big, catch-all spending bill that blocks closure. And the administration is rethinking its botched decision to try Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in New York a few blocks from his dirty work.
Hoyer said last month the administration should think about moving Sheikh Mohammed’s trial to Guantanamo, where the defendant had already offered to plead guilty. How’s that for a Democratic turnaround? Bush’s decision to create a special terrorist prison was correct.
Another example. Bush authorized a new secret eavesdropping program that allowed the National Security Agency to intercept calls from suspected terrorists into this country, without an immediate court warrant. It marked an attempt to keep pace with new technology, since emails and cell phone calls overseas are, as a matter of practice, routed through this country on their way to a co-conspirator. The NSA cannot always snatch a call at its source, but can catch up with it at a U.S. terminal.
The New York Times disclosed the once-secret terrorist surveillance program in a darkly worded story. Liberals then denounced intercepts as illegal and an invasion of privacy. Some said Bush was spying on Americans.
Once in office, after actually hearing intelligence reports on plots against the United States, Obama extended the program. And liberals grew silent.
Let’s look at North Korea. Bush pulled out of the Clinton deal that was supposed to stop the Stalinist state from building nuclear weapons. Bush said intelligence showed the North had started a side program to build weapons, not with plutonium, which was known, but with enriched uranium.
Arms controllers howled. The New York Times ran stories raising great doubts about the intelligence. How could a conservative Republican ditch such a great deal?, liberals asked.
Then, out of the blue last September, North Korea invited American scientists to Yongbyon to view a huge, modern uranium enrichment facility. One scientist said afterward that the centrifuges “could be readily converted to produce highly enriched uranium.”
Suddenly, with Obama as president, the New York Times went to bat for confronting the evil North Korea.
Read this Times story lead from last month:
“American defense officials said Sunday that the revelation of North Korea’s new uranium enrichment facility confirmed longstanding suspicions that the country was seeking a second route to build atomic weapons. They dismissed the North’s claim that it was simply trying to build nuclear power plants denied to them by the West.”
Obama has also become a missile defense convert in Europe, a pet project of the former president who saw the threat Iran posed not only to Israel but to the West. Obama ended a Bush deal to put interceptors in Poland because Russia opposed it and Hillary Clinton was pursuing a “reset” policy with Moscow.
But at the just-concluded NATO meeting, Obama emerged as the great champion of a defense against rogue nations such as Iran.
“It responds to the threats of our times,” he said. “It shows our determination to protect our citizens from the threat of ballistic missiles.”
Think liberals are mad at Obama for continuing the Bush tax cuts? Stay tuned.