Friday, February 13, 2009

The Republican Opposition

Via Andrew Sullivan, Booman makes what I think is a pretty valid analysis of future presidential-congressional relations:

The Republicans wanted to demonstrate some strength at the outset of this administration. They wanted to prove that they can maintain cohesion in opposition to things they truly oppose. It was important for them to send this message even though it was a discordant rejection of Obama's olive branch. They probably would have sought to send such a message on any major vote, so the stimulus wasn't necessarily the primary cause of their reaction. But there is something important about how the stimulus was put together that also helps explain Republican behavior. The stimulus package wasn't written using 'regular order' and did not come up through the committee and subcommittee process. There was a good reason for this...expediency. But that doesn't change the fact that the Republicans had no opportunity to influence the bill in committee.

Going forward, individual Republicans will have the option to work in a constructive way with the Democrats on the committees on which they serve. This is basically the only way House Republicans can have any influence over legislation over the next four years. Republicans that learn how to play this game will get to co-sponsor bills and bring home projects and appropriations to their home districts. Those that don't learn how to play this game will have nothing tangible to show for being a member of Congress. It might be comforting to be a member of the opposition and a champion among Republican activists, but it doesn't make for much of a day job.

What I'm basically saying is that the Republicans, as a group, want to oppose Obama at every turn. But it will not be easy to keep a unified opposition in place over time. I predict it will fall apart quite quickly. And then the Republican leaders will have to choose their battles very carefully because it will be hard to keep the caucus unified for more than a few key votes. Even on the stimulus, the Republicans lost. They won some important concessions, but they lost.

It will also be impossible to attack Obama as successfully as the Republicans attacked Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was a deeply flawed person who won a plurality of the vote. Barack Obama cannot demonized so easily.

So, no, the Republicans are not going to embrace bipartisanship or suddenly begin wishing the Obama administration well. But they're also not going to maintain a rock solid opposition. They can't.

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