As we reflect on the events of the past year and look forward to the prospects of the new one, I think it’s safe to say most of the D.C. political establishment lifted their Champagne flutes on New Year’s Eve to bid farewell to 2013, an annus horribilis for our nation’s capital. On either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House to the Congress, dysfunction became the norm rather than the exception to business as usual.
With both the approval ratings of President Obama and congressional leaders at all-time lows, I offer my 2014 New Year’s resolutions to the beleaguered political denizens of Washington, D.C., to help them lift their standing with the public they were elected to serve and get back to conducting the nation’s business.
It seems so long ago now, but at this point last year, the president’s political prospects could not have looked stronger. Fresh off his victory over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and set for his second term in office, Obama believed he had a mandate from the American people to transform the nation—and burnish his own political legacy. In his State of the Union address in February, the president unveiled an ambitious agenda to reform immigration, push for gun control legislation, and wield his regulatory powers to curb greenhouse emissions. He was poised to push for his ambitious agenda with a majority of his fellow Americans approving and trusting him to perform his job. What a difference a year makes.
Today the president and his inner circle are fervently hoping that those Americans who sought to enroll for health-care coverage were able to do so. If so, they will begin to stem the fury over the disastrous rollout of the president’s signature legislative achievement. If not, 2014 will make 2013 look easy by comparison.
I hope the president resolves to do three things for the American people this year. First, he needs to tell the truth. He has never truly apologized to the millions of people who lost their health-care coverage as a result of Obamacare, nor have you acknowledged the disruption it has caused in the insurance market. His dabbling in one-sixth of the U.S. economy thus far has been incompetent and incoherent, and has caused real pain to millions of people who believed him when he told them they could keep both the doctor and the insurance plan they liked. While he has vowed never to sign a bill repealing the so-called Affordable Care Act, I predict major reforms will pass Congress with strong bipartisan support to address the numerous deficiencies in the law.
Second, Obama must follow through on his dubious claim to be the most transparent administration in American history. Questions still persist about the attack of the American outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of four Americans. Ditto for the opaque manner in which the administration has responded to allegations of political malfeasance at the IRS toward citizens who disagreed with him or his political party.
At this juncture, the president has made himself largely inaccessible to the White House press corps and appears on The View and The Tonight Show on his whim to share information with the public. That is beneath the dignity of the office he sought to hold. Even the White House Press Corps Association has filed a grievance to address the selective manner in which government photographers present images to the world, rather than those taken by an ostensibly skeptical press corps.
Finally, Obama must resolve to follow through on his pledge to change the tone of political Washington. Presidents Clinton and Reagan were able to work with leaders from the opposing political parties to reform the tax code and welfare, and balance the federal budget. President George W. Bush was able to work across the aisle to pass education reform and a reduction of the marginal tax rates with support from Democrats who controlled the Senate. At this juncture, Obama and his allies appear more interested in blaming others for their political misfortunes than recognizing that successful politics is the art of negotiation—you have to give a little to gain a little.
2013 was a mixed year for congressional Republicans. Starting with the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was largely successful in keeping his fractious caucus largely in check. After a year in which 20 to 30 House Republicans appeared more content to vote “no” on deals to address government spending and reform the antiquated Farm Bill, which includes major welfare provisions, congressional Republicans begin the New Year in a stronger political position.
Beyond gaining traction on issues that began to erode the president’s credibility—pick any number of ongoing congressional investigations—congressional Republicans were buoyed by the error-riddled Obamacare rollout. Suddenly efforts to repeal or curb the measure didn’t seem so politically irresponsible after all. With millions of Americans set to lose their health-care coverage and the doctor they enjoy starting January 1, Republicans entered the New Year set to expand their House majority, albeit marginally, and in a real position to take control of the U.S. Senate. That’s unless, of course, they blow it. And we all know how prone they are to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Congressional Republicans should resolve not to blow it this year. For one, being against Obamacare isn’t enough. Let’s forcefully talk about what we’re for on a variety of legislative issues.
The public is finally listening to what a meaningful alternative to the president’s health-care nightmare could look like. Purchasing insurance across state lines, small business being able to pool to reduce premium costs, together with a delay in the individual mandate would be hard for opponents to defeat and the president not to sign.
Next, enough already with the political infighting employing circular fire that diminishes the Republican brand. There is plenty of room in the party for Tea Party conservatives, D.C. establishment types, and the rank and file to get along just fine. A good start would be to follow Reagan’s 12th Commandment—not to speak ill of another Republican—at least not before a media that seeks to do us no good.
Finally, enough with Republican candidates, as well as those presently in office, talking at length about abortion, rape, and other issues that fuel the nonsense that we’re engaged in a “war on women.” While not true on the merits, the image of cranky old white Republicans seeking to do all sorts of things to women isn’t helping.
This year congressional Democrats appeared interested in little more than being legislative cheerleaders for the president instead of representing the interests of the millions of constituents they were elected to serve (see Benghazi, IRS political targeting, etc.). Democrats sought a moral high ground on legislative issues they knew would never pass both chambers of Congress for Obama’s signature. Sweeping gun control measures, the DREAM Act, and the trumped-up “war on women” immediately come to mind.
Perhaps most egregious was the naked power grab by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to sweep aside 200 years of precedent and allow the minority party to insist on a supermajority of 60 votes for major legislation to pass the Senate. If the majority party can now sweep aside the threat of a filibuster for judicial nominations, the door has been punched open to do the same for even the most routine matters before the Senate, the Constitution be damned.
It is probably too late in the game now, but one would hope Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would resolve to work with Republicans to rewrite the tax code, address immigration reform, and go through the regular order of passing a budget followed by enacting appropriations to fund the government. Reid has resisted efforts to pass a budget or appropriations bills through the Senate, preferring instead to press for “grand bargains” that continue the explosion of federal spending without fully explaining to the American people what they are paying for.
With Democratic prospects for retaking the House all but extinguished, the temptation will emerge to protect the Senate majority at any cost. Expect more gridlock, more finger pointing at Republicans, and more token gestures to reach across the political aisle to work with Republicans. The Democrats’ lust for political power has clouded their judgment about the responsibilities they were entrusted by American people to perform. Either unwilling or unable to conduct the business of the nation, they should be punished this November for their legislative intransigence.