Another election season, another Big Lie. Oh, sure, the classic Big Lies are still out there: Social security is going bankrupt and must be privatized; union members are overpaid featherbedders; Democrats are wasteful spenders who are soft on defense; Barack Obama is a non-citizen Islamic Socialist Fascist. I’ve almost gotten used to these older fabrications, and the mainstream media (excepting, of course, Faux News) doesn’t give much credence or air time to them, except maybe the ones about Social Security and unions; and they don’t usually bother to counter the ones about Democrats if a pundit brings it up. I guess that’s progress of a sort.
But there is a (relatively) new Big Lie that has entered the world of Republican talking points. It has been voiced on repeated occasions by the Speaker of the House (John Boehner), by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee (Reince Priebus), and by a punditude of lesser luminaries in the GOP. And it is surely a lie, a false construct to revise recent historical reality in order to make President Obama look like an incompetent leader who chooses to avoid compromise by bypassing Constitutional requirements and circumventing the legitimate processes of representative democracy. It was repeated again, definitively, by Mitt Romney in an interview on 60 Minutes on Sunday, September 23rd. Romney said President Obama was not an effective leader because: “For his first two years, right now the majority of his term, he had a Democrat Congress–a supermajority in the Democrat Congress–and he had a whole series of things he said he was gonna do, that he didn’t do.” Note that the interviewer didn’t correct this falsehood.
Other specific examples of this myth appeared during the national debate after the President announced that he was not going to deport a specific group of young undocumented immigrants—those who were brought to this country by their parents and who were staying out of trouble and working hard to improve themselves. Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican, said the President’s action was “an affront to the process of representative government.” Many other GOP politicians went further, saying that “Obama had two years to get this thing passed in a Congress that was controlled by his party, and he failed”. Again, that’s the new Big Lie–Democrats had their chance and wasted it. It has popped up in discussions of the “paycheck fairness” act, updates to the Freedom of Information Act, union election reform, recess appointments of cabinet officers, and more generally in regard to the President’s current “to-do list”, especially his continued desire to improve the economy and create jobs.
In all of these cases, the Lie isn’t even remotely true, except in oversimplified theory (we must recognize, of course, that oversimplified theories make up the most popular of the conservative talking points, but that’s another blog). The reality: For the first two years of President Obama’s term Democrats controlled the House of Representatives and, ostensibly, the Senate. For about four months during that period, between the GOP-delayed certification of Al Franken’s election and the death of Ted Kennedy, the Democrats did have a bare supermajority of 60 votes in the Senate. So for four months, again in theory, Obama could have pushed anything he wanted through Congress. That must explain why it was so astonishingly easy for the President to push through the health care program Democrats wanted, including the “public option”—doesn’t everybody remember how easily that one went through?
The reality is very different and much more complex: Even when the Democrats had their 60-vote supermajority in the Senate (those magic four months), there were several retrograde Democrats-in-name-only (DINOs) who would vote to end a filibuster only if they were offered some significant concessions, and sometimes not even then. This includes Senator Lieberman of Connecticut, counted as one of the 60 even though he switched to Independent, and who repeatedly threatened to filibuster health care reform on his own. Then there were Ben Nelson, Tom Carper, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, and other Democrat blue dogs with varying contrarian agendas. With help from two or three of these allies from across the aisle, 40 Republicans voting as a solid block were able to stop almost anything they wanted to, including the popular health care “public option”.
And outside of the four “supermajority” months, the GOP could stop anything without any help from Democrats; and they did. One of the bills stopped was the DREAM Act, which would have made President Obama’s recent immigration sidestep unnecessary. It garnered ONLY 55 “yes” votes against 41 “no” votes in the Senate, a good majority but not enough to overcome the GOP blockade. Another was the DISCLOSE Act, the bill that would have required everyone receiving campaign contributions to reveal to the public who provided the money. Republicans for years have given lip service to full disclosure and transparency as the preferable alternative to any and all controls on campaign donations. The DISCLOSE Act passed the House twice, with bipartisan support, but was stopped in the Senate by a GOP filibuster. Two years ago there were 59 senators in favor of the bill, only 41 opposed (all of them Republicans), so the bill died. This month, when the sequence was repeated, the vote was 51 in favor and 44 opposed, so it failed again. All of the Republican senators voted to support the filibuster and kill the bill. As noted by Dan Froomkin on the Huffington Post, the latest vote was “a remarkable turnaround… In fact, 14 of the GOP senators who voted against debate on the bill this time around supported a nearly identical bill in 2000”.
You need more proof? In the first two years of the Obama presidency, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed more than 400 bills, including benefits for veterans, funding for police services and education, memorials naming post offices after soldiers or firemen killed in the line of duty, changes in regulations supporting homeland security and anti-terrorist activities, resolutions recognizing a specific holiday or event—a wide variety of large and small bills. More than 400 bills, most of them innocuous. How many of those bills were blocked by Republican-led filibuster threats in the Senate? More than 99 percent. Remember that these are the very same two years about which Republicans claim that “President Obama could have passed anything he wanted.”
The Affordable Care Act, the president’s health care reform law (“Obamacare”), was one of only a few pieces of legislation that actually managed to come up for a vote in the Senate during those two years, and that success required an extraordinary amount of legislative effort. It is a fact that to get a bill voted on against the threat of a filibuster takes at least a week, so if a bill isn’t high priority, they don’t even bother to try to carry it through the process. That’s how the GOP blocked 99 percent of everything that arrived in the Senate, even bills that they had previously supported. Why would they do that? They did it so they could now blame President Obama for a “lack of leadership” and a “failure to reach across the aisle”.
You want “an affront to the process of representative government”? That was it, shutting down Congress to score political points, and the blame is entirely on Senator Grassley’s GOP. And they did it, in the words of GOP Senator Mitch McConnell, because “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
So when you hear Republicans say that “Obama didn’t accomplish anything, even when he had control of the Congress”, remember that it was the Republican party who made it impossible for the President and Congress to get anything passed. When the Republicans complain that President Obama has failed to compromise, note that that’s like the skunk calling the zebra black. Obama has tried to compromise, repeatedly, perhaps even excessively—ask any Progressive Democrat.
So when you heard all those Republican speakers at the GOP Convention repeatedly claim that President Obama has “disappointed” our country and failed to live up to his promises, remember who it was who really held the country back. Remember who it was that stymied the best efforts of Congress to work with the president. In his acceptance speech, Mitt Romney is right when he says that our people and our country deserved better progress in the past four years. So why did his own party block that progress at every turn, in every action in Congress, solely for political gain?