Power Centers

Obama Could Benefit From Divided Gov't: Reagan-Bush Official

A Republican-controlled House might be the best thing that could happen to President Obama.

So writes Bruce Bartlett, an official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, in a piece in The Fiscal Times.

Bartlett makes several points. One, the Founders liked the idea of gridlock because it meant that, to be successful, legislation needed the support of coalitions and both chambers.

Two, when one party controls Congress and the White House, as Democrats do for the time being, or as Republicans did during George W. Bush's administration, excesses tend to occur.

He points to the massive spending on two wars and the expansion of social spending on the Medicate prescription drug program that occurred under the most recent unified Republican rule.

Three, a Republican-controlled House would give Obama a better foil for his anti-GOP arguments as he heads into his re-election campaign than he has had to date.

Republicans would have their hands on the wheel as well, making it easier for Obama's accusations to stick.

At this point, Americans’ well-documented fondness for gridlock, which has been confirmed in every poll ever taken on the subject, becomes Obama’s ally. They may be willing to elect a few crackpots to Congress, where they know they will have little influence individually, but take the election of a president much more seriously. And if they see a Republican Congress being excessively partisan — wasting time on witch hunts, extremely ideological measures that cannot be enacted over a presidential veto, an inability to perform the routine work of Congress such as passing annual appropriations bills or a debt limit increase, or even launching a Quixotic impeachment effort against Obama — then public opinion will change very, very fast.

The best thing for Republicans would be to work with Obama on issues where each has something potentially to gain, as Ronald Reagan did with tax reform in 1986 and Bill Clinton did with welfare reform in 1996. Entitlement reform might be the issue that brings them together — Obama may be willing to support reforms that Democrats in Congress wouldn’t dare touch and give political cover to Republicans for actions they would dare not take on their own, assuming they are serious about actually cutting spending.

Bartlett's thinking tracks with what reporters who cover the White House have reported hearing are hearing from people inside the administration.

The way things appear now, getting used to working within a divided government won't be an option for the Obama Administration.

If White House officials seem like they're warming to the idea, it's probably out of a sense of the inevitable.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: