All the buzz is that President Obama mopped the floor with House Republicans yesterday at the Republican retreat in Baltimore. It was so good that Fox News cut away to begin presentation of the predetermined Republican rebuttal talking points a full 20 minutes early.
Accepting the invitation to speak at the House GOP retreat may turn out to be the smartest decision the White House has made in months. Debating a law professor is kind of foolish: the Republican House Caucus has managed to turn Obama’s weakness — his penchant for nuance — into a strength. Plenty of Republicans asked good and probing questions, but Mike Pence, among others, found their arguments simply demolished by the president. (By the way: can we stop with the Obama needs a teleprompter jokes?)
More than the State of the Union — or on top of the State of the Union — this may be a pivotal moment for the future of the presidential agenda on Capitol Hill. (Democrats are loving this. Chris Hayes, The Nation’s Washington bureau chief, tweeted that he hadn’t liked Obama more since the inauguration.)
During the presidential campaign, it was John McCain who proposed a form of the British Prime Ministers’ questions for the president. It was derided as a gimmick. This is no gimmick. I have not seen a better and perhaps more productive political discussion in this country in…a long time. 90 minutes worth!
The full video and transcript are here. Much of the question-and-answer part can be boiled down Republicans claiming they have better ideas and plans for solving the nation’s problems, and Obama saying that yes, I’ve seen your ideas and plans, and they sound grand, but nobody can tell me how they’ll work in the real world.
Here’s just a snip:
CONGRESSMAN PENCE: [Speaks to high unemployment and the President’s stimulus bill] … Now, Republicans offered a stimulus bill at the same time. It cost half as much as the Democratic proposal in Congress, and using your economic analyst models, it would have created twice the jobs at half the cost. It essentially was across-the-board tax relief, Mr. President. …
PRESIDENT OBAMA: [Discussion of what the stimulus bill accomplished] … And the notion that I would somehow resist doing something that cost half as much but would produce twice as many jobs — why would I resist that? I wouldn’t. I mean, that’s my point, is that — I am not an ideologue. I’m not. It doesn’t make sense if somebody could tell me you could do this cheaper and get increased results that I wouldn’t say, great. The problem is, I couldn’t find credible economists who would back up the claims that you just made.
Elsewhere, responding to the claim that the GOP has a great health care reform proposal —
It’s not enough if you say, for example, that we’ve offered a health care plan and I look up — this is just under the section that you’ve just provided me, or the book that you just provided me — summary of GOP health care reform bill: The GOP plan will lower health care premiums for American families and small businesses, addressing America’s number-one priority for health reform. I mean, that’s an idea that we all embrace. But specifically it’s got to work. I mean, there’s got to be a mechanism in these plans that I can go to an independent health care expert and say, is this something that will actually work, or is it boilerplate?
If I’m told, for example, that the solution to dealing with health care costs is tort reform, something that I’ve said I am willing to work with you on, but the CBO or other experts say to me, at best, this could reduce health care costs relative to where they’re growing by a couple of percentage points, or save $5 billion a year, that’s what we can score it at, and it will not bend the cost curve long term or reduce premiums significantly — then you can’t make the claim that that’s the only thing that we have to do. If we’re going to do multi-state insurance so that people can go across state lines, I’ve got to be able to go to an independent health care expert, Republican or Democrat, who can tell me that this won’t result in cherry-picking of the healthiest going to some and the least healthy being worse off.
So I am absolutely committed to working with you on these issues, but it can’t just be political assertions that aren’t substantiated when it comes to the actual details of policy. Because otherwise, we’re going to be selling the American people a bill of goods. I mean, the easiest thing for me to do on the health care debate would have been to tell people that what you’re going to get is guaranteed health insurance, lower your costs, all the insurance reforms; we’re going to lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid and it won’t cost anybody anything. That’s great politics, it’s just not true.
So there’s got to be some test of realism in any of these proposals, mine included. I’ve got to hold myself accountable, and guaranteed the American people will hold themselves — will hold me accountable if what I’m selling doesn’t actually deliver.
Here’s a partial video:
The thing is, I doubt very much if the extremist ideologues who make up the “House GOP” actually understand that a stack of paper containing bullet points that repeat the words “common-sense” and “affordable” a lot are not the same thing as a real policy proposal. The House GOP actually has a website called “GOP Solutions” that amounts to prettily presented air. Here’s the health care reform page, for example. It’s all unsubstantiated claims.
Do you remember the Bush Administration’s “strategy for victory in Iraq,” released with great fanfare in late 2005? (It doesn’t seem to be online any more, or at least my old link to it doesn’t work.) I wrote at the time that the thing presented no strategy at all; it was just a list of goals with no indication of how those goals would be achieved. I also said at the time that I doubted the Bush Administration had any clue what a real strategy looked like.
When I was a child I had a picture book about paleolithic cave paintings. The author speculated that Cro Magnon artists drew many, many pictures of game animals in caves to make game animals abundant. It was magic, see. I think the GOP is working on the same principle — produce many, many stacks of paper with many, many bulleted lists saying your plan will make everything better without costing any money, and it will magically happen.
Update: Reaction from the Right — Gateway Pundit writes a blog post titled “ANGRY Obama Lashes Out at House Republicansâ€“ Tells Them ‘I Am Not an Ideologue’ (Video).” Then he writes, “Look at how ANGRY he is while speaking to the House Republicans:” and posts this video —
Um, I’m not seeing any anger. The President is speaking truthfully but patiently. Of course, to Gateway Pundit he must be angry, because he is (1) a leftie (in a wingnut’s mind) and (2) black. But by dismissing the President as being “angry” he doesn’t have to address the substance of what he said.