As President Barack Obama finishes out the last year of his second term, it seems that members of the Republican party have all suffered from a collective amnesia regarding Obama’s ability, as both a president and senator, to work with counterparts across the aisle. The real number of times Obama has willingly worked with Republicans is probably in the thousands, but compromises are not created equal. Here is the top ten countdown of times Barack Obama worked towards a compromise with people that still insist he’s a ruthless dictator.
10. Illinois State Senate
This might be hard for some Republicans to believe, but Obama did not, in fact, go straight from community organizer to the White House. His first served in the Illinois State Senate representing the 13th district. And during that time, believe it or not, he built a reputation for working with Republicans in the state legislature.
[Republican Kirk] Dillard was the Senate sponsor and Obama the co-sponsor of legislation, approved in 1998, that banned lobbyists from giving gifts to lawmakers and enacted new campaign finance disclosure requirements, along with other reforms.
Republicans were actually encouraged to seek out then-State Senator Obama, knowing that he was eager to pass important legislation and was willing to work across party lines. He carried that enthusiasm into his next role as a U.S. Senator, but that doesn’t come next on the countdown, calm down. Cheaters.
9. New START Treaty
START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) has a long, tumultuous history, with negotiations first starting as far back as 1982. It also has a strong bipartisan history. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan and the leader of the former Soviet Union, Mikhael Gorbachev, began talks on what would turn into a major draw-down in the massive nuclear stockpiles and delivery vehicles the two countries hoarded during the Cold War.
Because of the significance and difficulty and getting an agreement through both governments, especially with the dissolution of the Soviet Union lodged in the middle, Reagan was not able to seal it up completely. But with Reagan passing the presidential torch to Vice President George H.W. Bush, the smooth transition helped the talks continue until an agreement was reached in 1991.
Implementation of what was later renamed START I went all the way through the 90s, but expired in 2009. In response to the expiration, and to the failure of passing START II and START III, Obama started talks with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on what was called New START.
It did not go down easily, though. Needing 67 votes in the U.S. Senate, it went right down to the wire because some Republicans simply weren’t willing to let Obama do something meaningful in which he could take credit. Republican Senator Richard Lugar points this out in an interview shortly before the vote.
New START was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 2010 by a vote of 71-26, which included support from thirteen Republicans and two Independents. The treaty went into force in February of 2011.
8. DREAM Act
The DREAM Act was immigration legislation designed to protect children illegally brought to the U.S. by family members. As long as they stayed out of trouble, they wouldn’t be deported. This would also protect immigrants who have served in the U.S. military. Seriously, risking your life in war for the U.S. is apparently not enough, leading to actual military veterans being deported. They fight for our freedom, only to be told they can’t partake. ‘Murica!
The original DREAM Act was proposed in 2001 by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and included co-sponsors from both parties. It came to a vote in 2010, passing the U.S. House 216-198, but failing in the Senate by not reaching the 60-vote super-majority needed to avert a filibuster.
You might think perhaps the bill changed enough between 2001 and 2010 in ways that angered Republicans, but surprisingly, the only real changes actually made the bill more restrictive towards immigrants. Ironically, these changes led to five Democrats voting against it, which would have been enough to avoid the filibuster.
Nevertheless, Obama did everything he could to garner enough support from both sides of the aisle. When it came up short, it was due to opposition from Democrats upset that it contained too much compromise.
7. Republican Appointments
This list is long, and goes deep in the cabinet. Obama actually has the distinction of being the first president to remind me of the last season of The West Wing, when President-elect Santos offered to appoint the Republican presidential nominee, Arnold Vinick, as Secretary of State. This is sort of how I imagine the conversation went when Obama appointed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who previously served in the administrations of both George W. and George H.W. Bush.
But he didn’t stop with Gates. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and Army Secretary John McHugh were all appointed to their posts by Obama despite their deep Republican ties. Capping it off was the appointment of the U.S. Ambassador to China, which went to former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who also ran for president as a Republican in 2012.
Considering these high appointments going to Republicans, it’s probably safe to say there were a few Ainsley Hayes’s on the White House staff as well.
6. Cap and Trade (Cap and Tax)
It was once called “Cap and Trade,” at least it was back when it was proposed by a Republican. Then Democrats got their dirty hands on it, and as soon as Obama touched it, it became “Cap and Tax.” Because that’s how you make Republican ideas sound bad when Democrats try to pass them…you add the word “tax.” It’s also useful to add “Big” as an adjective in front of anything the opposition likes (big government, big oil, big pharma, big ag, etc.).
Cap and Trade has a complex operation, but on a very basic level, it is basically an incentive given to businesses to encourage them to lower emissions of certain pollutants. It was a central component of the Clean Air Act of 1990, proposed, passed, and signed by George H.W. Bush. At that time, it was seen by conservatives as a breakthrough; a market-based approach to reducing pollution.
But, of course, when Obama took this great conservative idea for emissions reduction and wanted to apply it to carbon emissions that were speeding up the warming of the earth, it became the Nazi-Communist-Kenyan-Muslim Tax and Spend Plan. Paraphrasing, of course.
5. The Coburn-Obama Bill
Let’s step back for a minute to the term Obama served in the U.S. Senate, where he made several Republican friends. Most prominent among them was then-Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn. In 2006, the two of them came together for the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which was given the pet name “Google for Government.” The bill allowed regular taxpayers to use a “Google-like” search engine to track government spending.
The bill, which was also often referred to as the “Coburn-Obama Bill,” also had 43 co-sponsors hailing from both sides of the aisle. To this day, even amidst their many differences while Coburn was still in Congress, Coburn still regards President Obama as a “genuinely very smart, nice guy.”
Interesting to note from the interview: President Obama’s relationship with Congress apparently was in some part based on the fact that he took his job seriously. He didn’t start off meetings with a dirty joke. I don’t know about you, but when I voted for him, I expected him to take his job seriously and not start off meetings with a dirty joke.
Bravo to Senator Coburn and President Obama for being able to respectfully disagree and still find common ground on which to work together.
4. Chained CPI
I’ll be honest, getting down to these last few has me a little freaked, because some of these times when Obama actively worked with Republicans are now considered naughty words in progressive circles.
One of those naughty words was part of the “Grand Bargain” struck between Obama and then-Speaker of the House John Boehner. That deal ultimately failed as neither could get enough support from their own caucus, but every discussion from now on regarding Social Security will end up with a heated conversation on chained CPI.
So what is it? I am so glad you asked.
Currently, government benefits go up each year based on a certain version of the CPI (Consumer Price Index). The reason for this change is because the value of a dollar changes over time. This is called a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment). The current version in use is CPI-W, which is shorthand for “Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.”
Chained CPI is shorthand for “Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.” It’s based on the idea that as certain products go up in price, eventually consumers will replace them with other items. For example, let’s say the price of hamburger goes through the roof, but the price of chicken stays relatively the same. Chained CPI is meant to reflect the inflationary adjustment of the dollar while taking into context the fact that consumers would probably buy less hamburger and more chicken.
If you’re wondering what happens to the people who don’t make the substitutions for which this index adjusts, the answer is that they will get less money to purchase those products. Because of the substitutions made with chained CPI, the inflation adjustment for government benefits would rise at a much slower rate than under CPI-W.
Obama agreed to this change, caught the disdain of his party, and then watched it fail to pass because the overall agreement called for a tax increase.
Another naughty word. TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) is a huge trade agreement between the U.S., Canada, and the Pacific Rim. And Republicans absolutely love it. And Obama loves it. And Democrats hate it.
Not all Democrats, of course, but the rise of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and a progressive movement surge on the issue have combined to push it to the front, and put Obama in a position to explain it more than he ever hoped would be necessary. As most trade deals of that magnitude are conducted in private, much of the early dissent was based on speculation.
Currently the agreement is stuck on hold, as full implementation requires 12 countries to agree on everything, followed by getting it all approved and ratified by their central government. If you ever felt like the government runs too slowly, make sure you take into context that 12 countries are trying to get all parts of their governments to agree with each other and all parts of all the other governments. So…yeah. Check back in a decade.
2. Corporate Taxes
This a big one. Not based on the size or stretch of such a change, but because Obama has repeatedly offered it over the years, and Republicans have repeatedly brushed him off, only to then complain that Obama won’t lower the corporate tax rate.
Several years ago, one of the bigger stories in the news was fast food chain Burger King moving its headquarters to Canada. And why would they do such a thing? Because Canada’s corporate tax rate is 15%, compared to the U.S. rate of 35%. And according to this guy, that’s all on Obama and his “anti-business, big tax agenda…”
Democrats and Republicans alike say they want corporate tax reform—eliminate loopholes and deductions and lower rates—but Obama has made clear he wants more revenue overall out of the exercise.
Obama has said over and over that his plan is to close tax loopholes and use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate. The basis of this plan is revenue-neutral. The most recent proposal from Obama on corporate tax reform is explained here by Jason Bellini of the Wall Street Journal:
Sadly, the idea of Obama cutting taxes just doesn’t fit the GOP rhetoric that they would like you to hear, so he still gets viewed as a tax-and-spend liberal. But we don’t get to make up our own facts, and the fact is that Obama has worked very hard to come to an agreement with Republicans, and while Republicans continue to rail on high corporate taxes, they don’t seem willing to come to the table.
1. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
Also known lovingly as Obamacare.
If you didn’t know the foundation of this came from Republican ideas, then I’ve got a story to tell you.
Back in the 80s and 90s, the solution pushed by Democrats to reform our massively screwed up health care system was universal healthcare, also known as single-payer healthcare. The main reason we didn’t get health care reform in the 90s was because President Bill Clinton wanted single-payer (then-First Lady Hillary Clinton was also a very vocal proponent), and Republicans wanted healthcare to remain in some form of a market-based system.
While it never happened at the federal level, the ideas proposed by Republicans during that time carried on in Republican circles. The most prominent of these was the individual mandate, which was the foundation on which Republican Governor Mitt Romney passed his healthcare plan in the state of Massachusetts.
That is some fine messaging right there. Not once did he call it a “mandate.” It was taking personal responsibility and not getting a free ride. Brilliant.
The reason for the individual mandate is fairly simple, especially when explained by the organization the basically invented it: the extremely conservative Heritage Foundation. If we want a healthcare system that covers people who have preexisting conditions, it can only remain affordable for everyone else if healthy people who don’t have health insurance are forced to buy it.
The major disagreement the modern Republican Party pretended to have with the mandate was that it forced people who didn’t want insurance to buy insurance. What they appear to have missed is what was explained by Romney in the above clip. Because a major illness or injury could hit at any time, and because emergency rooms are required to treat anyone that comes in the door, it just doesn’t make sense to allow people that can afford insurance to not buy it. When their appendix bursts and they go to the emergency room, that cost is passed on to the rest of us.
Speaking of which, during the major Supreme Court trial addressing the individual mandate, it turns out that the lead plaintiff had…wait for it…filed for bankruptcy partially due to medical bills.
When that happens, the healthcare provider has to absorb that loss. When they absorb that loss, they have to make up for it somewhere else, which leads to higher prices on other medical services. All of this, at the end of the day, means that the people carrying health insurance are being charged in part for the unwillingness of others to carry health insurance.
Here I am expanding on Mitt Romney’s point, which originally the Heritage Foundation’s point, which at one time was also Newt Gingrich’s point, which is now the same point being made by President Obama.
Like it or not, President Obama has tried and compromised repeatedly in order to bring Republicans to the table on healthcare and many other major issues our country faces. He has made it a focus to work together to pass meaningful, bipartisan legislation. And in exchange, he has been called all sorts of nasty names and portrayed to the world as a dictator that wants to rule by force and not listen to anyone else.
We can only hope that decades from now, his legacy in our children’s textbooks will reflect the spirit of bipartisanship that he brought to every position he was elected to as a public servant.