The war between Congress and the White House

February 6, 2015
U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner watches as U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a bipartisan meeting of Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington

House Speaker John Boehner watches as President Barack Obama hosts a bipartisan meeting of congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Most Americans think the U.S. government is dysfunctional. They’re right.

It’s because we have two governments at war with each other:  The Blue government, led by President Barack Obama in the White House, versus the Red government, led by the Republicans who control Congress.

The Blue government puts income inequality at the top of the agenda. The Red government puts debt reduction at the top.

What we’re seeing now is the Blue government and the Red government each acting as if the other doesn’t exist. The U.S. government is not set up to run that way.

Obama enraged Republicans when he announced executive actions on immigration and Cuba. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) enraged Democrats when he invited the prime minister of Israel to address Congress without first informing the White House.

Result: gridlock.

U.S. President Obama waves after attending the Friends of Ireland luncheon at the Capitol in Washington

House Speaker John Boehner (L) walks away while President Barack Obama waves as he leave the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, March 14, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Competition is essential to our sports and to our democracy. But when a game, like the Super Bowl, is over, the competition ends. It’s the same with political competition. It is supposed to end when the election is over. But now it doesn’t ever seem to end.

Especially when the people elect a Blue team to the White House and a Red team to Congress. Each can claim to be the champion — as Obama did during his State of the Union speech last month. He reminded Republicans that he had run two presidential campaigns, and “I won both of them.”

The Blue government’s goal is to end the austerity regime imposed by the budget deal of 2011. That resulted in sequesters — indiscriminate across-the-board budget cuts that slashed domestic and defense spending.

Democrats are thrilled that Obama wants to ignore the sequesters, increase spending and pass tax cuts that would benefit working- and middle-class Americans. How does he propose to pay for it? By raising taxes on wealthier Americans. Republicans reject that out of hand.

Democrats hope to entice Republicans into a deal by increasing military spending as well as domestic. “No foe in the field,” a retired Marine general told the Senate Armed Service Committee, “can wreak such havoc on our military security that mindless sequestration is achieving today.”

Republicans are split. Defense hawks share the general’s alarm. Fiscal hawks say spending is spending — and it’s all bad.

Democrats have to be careful about raising taxes. The White House got a stern warning last week after it proposed taxing the earnings of 529 college-savings accounts. It’s mostly affluent Americans who benefit from those accounts (they have the money to put away). But the backlash to the president’s tax proposal was so fierce — from Democrats as well as Republicans — that Obama had to back down. A lot of people who don’t consider themselves rich take advantage of tax-free college savings plans.

U.S. President Obama and House Speaker Boehner attend the unveiling ceremony for the Rosa Parks statue in the U.S. Capitol in Washington

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R) at the unveiling ceremony for the Rosa Parks statue in the Capitol in Washington, February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

With the deficit now more or less under control, the Red government insists that the highest priority should be reducing the national debt. Interest payments on the debt could become a serious burden in the future, though they are manageable at the moment because interest rates are so low. In addition, the impending retirement of 76 million baby boomers will likely put a huge burden on Social Security and Medicare.

Republicans want entitlement reform. That’s a risky goal for them. In the last two national elections, Republicans did best with voters 65 and older. Any proposal to “restructure” Social Security or Medicare will put the senior vote at risk — even if the reforms affect only future retirees. AARP, the nation’s largest interest group, for example, is extremely protective of those programs because they benefit seniors.

The U.S. Constitution facilitates gridlock by creating a separation of powers. In parliamentary democracies, however, gridlock is unconstitutional. A core principle of the British constitution is, “Her Majesty’s government must be carried on.”

If the government can’t govern, it falls. Parliament is dissolved and new elections are held until the people elect a government that can govern decisively.

The United States has no queen. There is no constitutional requirement that the government has to function. Last month’s Fox News poll found that, by three to one, Americans see the United States as a “dysfunctional family.” Though Americans elect a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, they expect them to work together.

And they often do — when the country is faced with a crisis. That’s the only way to get the Blue government and the Red government to collaborate.

But the crisis has to be real. The test is whether it generates an overwhelming sense of public urgency. Several potential crises are coming down the road in the next two years: funding the Homeland Security Department; raising the debt ceiling; financing the depleted Highway Trust Fund; slowing climate change; renewing the Export-Import Bank that helps finance exports. Also looming is the threat that Islamic State can seize and control much of Syria or Iraq, or that Russia will take over Ukraine.

It will be interesting to see which of these emerge as genuine crises, where the public demands action. Republicans have learned — or should have learned — that they can never be seen as responsible for creating the crisis. That means no government shutdowns. No threats to default on the national debt.

Sept. 11 and the 2008 financial crisis were real crises. Things got done — even if they weren’t always good things. If the crisis is not real, the Red and Blue governments will remain locked in a standoff.

It may last for the next two years.


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Obama has acted like Congress does not exist for 6 years. Now Congress might be repaying the favor.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

… to him and God’s Creation.

Dear AZreb

Truth be known.

Peace be with you All.


Posted by Lovetwo | Report as abusive

In the first two years of the Obama administration, the president bent over backwards to appease the GOP, including the hybrid ACA, and many Democrats despaired of him growing a backbone against the utterly recalcitrant GOP. The GOP has opposed every bloody thing the president has attempted from day 1 whether they previously supported it or not, and I for one, do not blame Obama as much as the GOP and their pervasive propaganda campaign for the current Blue/Red war.

Posted by distancematters | Report as abusive

Which party held secret meetings on both of the Presidents inaugurations? And the new Senate Leader once said that his goal is to make Obama a one term president. And which party has told the president he lied in the SOTU, and compared him to Hitler. So much contempt and disrespect.

Overall, they have been out to undermine Obama from day one. But as Bobby Jindal said it best, stop being the “dumb” Party.

Obama has been playing chess, while the Republicans been playing checkers.

Posted by uc8tcme | Report as abusive

Somebody has to make decisions to preserve and protect our nation and since Obama can’t make a decision so Congress has to step up to the plate. The blame for this mess are the mentally deficient voters who this idiot into the presidency to begin with. What did the voters expect when they voted for a president that had no experience or accomplishments to offer to the job. Next time vote qualifications and principles instead of color.

Posted by fedupaj | Report as abusive

Yonkers, New York
07 February 2015

The Republicans in Washington have for six years engaged in the desructive politics of stalement, gridlock and ‘Gotcha!’ in a determined effort to make President Obama and his Democratic colleagues fail.

It gets worse now that the Republicans control both the Senate and the House.

Is this their idea of a government “of the people, by the people and for the people?”

Mariano Patalinjug

Posted by MarPatalinjug | Report as abusive

Read Michael White columnist of the Guardian: there is a superiority of the British democracy whose two main opponents are facing inside the House of Commons rather than the American and French constituency whose leaders are outside the institutions leading party that may choose and use illegal tools like internet, war, and money to win the elections!

Posted by meleze | Report as abusive