Republican politicians seem to be making less sense than usual these days, especially when the subject being discussed is President Obama. No matter what Obama does -- or does not do -- it is wrong, according to Republicans. Oh, and everything bad is Obama's fault -- can't forget that one, either.
This was painfully on display last Sunday morning's political chatfests, when the Republicans rolled out their talking points on two different subjects. On the budget, Obama is "failing to lead." On immigration, Obama's attempts to lead are "dead on arrival" -- sight unseen. Got that? Obama has to lead, but when he does lead, Republicans will kill any proposal with his name on it, just because. The doublethink is jaw-dropping in scope. The final one is even more laughable: the upcoming "sequester" is Obama's idea, and is therefore all his fault.
This is all part of the ancient Washington "blame game," of course, where you try to take credit for everything good, and pin all blame for bad things on your political opponents. When a good law is passed, everyone wants to make sure their fingerprints are visibly all over it. When bad laws are passed, everyone must have worn gloves the day it was put together, because there are no fingerprints on it at all.
Let's start with the sequester. The Republican position is now that Obama thought it up, and Obama signed it, therefore it is "Obama's sequester." John Boehner even briefly tried to get everyone to call it the "Obamaquester," which (thankfully) failed miserably. But Boehner and all the other Republicans are willfully ignoring two rather important facts. The first is that the Republican House voted for the sequester. Haven't heard about this? No doubt this is due to the fact that Republicans are ignoring the fact, and that the mainstream media can't remember what it had for breakfast -- never mind anything as far back as two years ago. But it doesn't make it any less true. The Republicans in the House supported and passed the sequester. Meaning neither party is solely "responsible" for it happening, or at the very least both parties share the blame equally.
The lion's share of blame for the sequester we now face, in fact, goes to Congress itself. The sequester was designed to be a threat that never actually happened. Instead, the "super committee" was supposed to come up with a deal. They didn't. They failed. The super committee was composed of members of Congress from both parties. They couldn't manage to do their job. This is where any blame lies, and you'll notice that Barack Obama wasn't even in the room when that failure happened. The moral of this particular story is: this is what happens when Congress tries to agree, without the president's leadership in the mix. They come up with nothing.
Marco Rubio personifies the Republican reaction when Obama does lead. Rubio would like everyone to know that he's working really, really hard on putting together a comprehensive immigration reform bill. But that's as far as he appears willing (or able) to go. He just wants everyone to know he's working real hard on a bill -- a bill which never seems to appear. Rubio has been in the Senate for a while now, and has (to the best of my knowledge) never actually come up with any immigration bill at all. He just likes to be seen working on one, that's all.
Rubio had been in Congress for over a year when Obama announced last year that he was offering some temporary relief to the "Dreamers," because the actual DREAM Act had not passed Congress. Rubio was reportedly working on his own version of the DREAM Act. He never had an actual piece of legislation, mind you, but he wanted everyone to know he was working hard on it. He hit the roof when Obama acted, because it took the issue away from Rubio. But it didn't have to. Obama's executive action didn't solve the problem permanently -- everyone agreed on that. So why didn't Rubio immediately offer up a bill which would have fixed the Dreamers' problem for good? He could have campaigned on what a wonderful plan the Republicans had, and beaten up on Obama rhetorically for how far his action fell short of the goal. He did not do so. He never introduced a bill at all.
Now he's gotten seven other senators together, and they're all working real hard on drafting a bill. Which is what is important to Rubio -- being seen working on a bill, while never actually producing draft legislation. The White House, this past weekend, leaked portions of a draft of their own bill. Rubio, again, hit the roof. He pronounced any bill from Obama "dead on arrival" in Congress. Sight unseen -- just because Obama was for it, Republicans would be against it, period, end of sentence.
Rubio's main conundrum is that anything he proposes is going to be virulently attacked by members of his own party. It really doesn't matter what Rubio proposes, there are going to be House Republicans on the airwaves the same day denouncing it as "amnesty" (or worse). When you provide details, then those details will be attacked. Which is why it's safer for Rubio not to produce a bill. No details, no problem. You can continue to vaguely talk about solving the problem without actual details, which is what really counts for Rubio.
Obama is signaling that he's only going to play Rubio's game for a limited amount of time, and then he is going to go right ahead and lead on the issue. If Rubio is indeed serious about reforming immigration, then he will push the other seven senators to agree on a draft bill in the next month or two. If he does not, then Obama will introduce his own bill. If it fails, then America (including all those Latino voters) will be able to see who votes for it and who votes against it. And Republicans can attempt to explain their votes at the next election. If Rubio never introduces his own bill, then the Republicans will not be able to say they support a different plan -- because it is hard to make that argument when the plan does not exist.
Hearing Republicans call for Obama to "show some leadership" is pretty funny, after considering what is going on with immigration. Republicans define "show some leadership" as "please propose 100 percent of what Republicans want and zero percent of what Democrats want, and we'll vote on it -- and then blame you later for it." This is also how they used to define "compromise," until that word became absolutely taboo for Republicans to ever speak.
John Boehner recently called on the president to offer up a "detailed plan that can pass Congress," chock-full of spending cuts and with no new revenues. Republicans have been playing this game for a while -- they are all for "spending cuts" in the abstract, but they refuse to actually lay out, in detail, what they're going to cut. Even the Paul Ryan budget that Republicans love to point to left enormous blank spots that essentially said: "we'll cut a bunch of money here, but we're not going to tell you what we're going to cut." There's a very good reason for this -- while the public approves of "cutting government spending" in the abstract, they are far less eager to do so when asked which individual programs they'd like to see cut. Republicans know this, which is why they refuse to provide details (see: Mitt Romney's entire campaign).
They think they've now hit upon an answer. Graciously allow the president to lay out all the particulars of the cuts, and then they will (reluctantly, one assumes) vote for the plan. Later, if there is any public outcry over any individual cut, they can point to the president and say "Obama cut that, not us." This way, they get their cake (budget cuts) and get to eat it too (blame Obama for any downside).
This isn't going to happen, needless to say. Even if Obama did wake up one morning and decide to put together a draft bill with everything Republicans wanted, the chances are they'd vote it down anyway, just because it came from him. Obama knows this. He learned this lesson in his first term in office. He knows that the only way any deal is going to happen is if he gets Boehner and all the other leadership in a room to hammer something out -- with gloves on -- that will have nobody's clear fingerprints on when it emerges.
This is the sequester that should happen. Think "sequester" in the way it is normally used, as in "sequestering" a jury. If Republicans refuse to follow Obama's lead, and refuse to provide leadership on their own, then this is the only way anything's going to get done for the next two years. Lock them in a room, and don't let them out until they've come up with a solution that actually does have a chance of gaining the necessary votes.
Of course, this probably won't happen either. With the sequester looming, Congress is in the middle of a week-long vacation. Just like they took a big vacation right before the fiscal cliff. If we were really serious about solving our budget problems, we should be treating Obama and the congressional leadership like a jury right now. Lock them in, don't let them contact anyone in the outside world, pay them less than minimum wage, and feed them bad deli sandwiches and coffee until they come up with a solution. Take away their cell phones and other electronic devices. Maybe limit bathroom breaks, too. Now that's a "sequester" that might actually work wonders.
-- Chris Weigant
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant