Breakdown of political party representation in the United States Senate during the 112th Congress. Blue: Democrat Red: Republican Light Blue: Independent (caucused with Democrats) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Why is there political gridlock in Washington?
William Daley, who became President Obama’s Chief of Staff in 2011, blames congressional Republicans.
Daley succeeded former Congressman Rahm Emanuel in the White House when Emanuel won the election to replace Daley’s brother Richard M. Daley as Chicago mayor.
Too facile, argued Republicans to Daley’s assertion on a panel of political insiders held in Chicago last week. U.S. Rep. Aaron Shock (R-Peoria) contended Democrats aren’t spurring progress, either. The discussion was part of Chicago Forward, a series organized by the Chicago Tribune and sponsored by ComEd.
Representing Republican views were Shock and former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar. Daley and Christie Hefner, director of the Center for American Progress, represented Democratic perspectives. The event was moderated by Bruce Dold, editor of the Chicago Tribune editorial page.
Daley noted President Obama inherited a shaky economy and two wars, and came into office at a time when all leaders and standard-bearers are under heavy scrutiny.
“This is a very tough time to lead anything,” Daley said. “It’s tough to lead a country, it’s tough to lead a company, [and] it’s tough to lead an educational institution [or] religious organization. All leadership is under siege.”
When Obama came under fire by the Republicans at the occasion for what they called a prolonged lack of bipartisan work, Hefner came to his defense. She said Obama tried early on to cooperate with Republicans, and cited his efforts on the Affordable Care Act, which she said backfired. A philanthropist now, Hefner has a business background as former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises, founded by her father Hugh Hefner.
“He took too long to get the message that he wasn’t going to be getting people to cross the aisle,” Hefner said. “The healthcare bill that took longer than almost anyone wanted to—whether you were for it or against it—took that long because the President insisted on trying and trying to get any Republican votes to cross over.”
Shock argued that the 2008 Democratic sweep of both houses of Congress and the presidency gave Obama too much power. Consequently, Shock said, the president tried to do too much too early. He mentioned Obama’s efforts to revitalize the flagging economy, including the auto industry bailouts of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. He said the result was public backlash in the midterm elections of 2010, when the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives.
“You don’t have to tell me you [have to] work with people on both sides to get things done,” Shock said. “[But] the president started off his presidency with rock star status [and] a huge opportunity to do what he campaigned to do, which was bring the country together, work with people on both sides of the aisle, and yet every major policy initiative was ramrodded through in his first year.”
Shock contended that congressional Republicans are the only group in Washington that has managed to pass a budget that pays down debt, saves Social Security and Medicare and does so without raising taxes.
“You can think Paul Ryan is a right-wing nut, you can think House Republicans are cold and heartless, call it whatever you want,” he said. “We’ve laid it out there, we’ve taken a vote, and that budget has passed the House of Representatives.”
Shock pointed out that Democrats controlled the U.S. Senate and House in 2008, so it’s disingenuous to blame Republicans. Shock did not vote on the 2011-2012 House budget, but voted in support of increasing the debt ceiling and for the Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 2011.
Daley argued the president wrote policies that would place the country on a path to a balanced budget and address the deficit. He said the primary goal for the president’s budget is stabilizing the economy and preventing another recession. Many Democrats worry that drastic cuts with no revenue increases will endanger the still-fragile economic recovery.
Washington needs to get its act together all the way around, Daley said, before the economy can improve. He said the fear of voter backlash is stunting progress and lengthening periods of inaction by members of Congress.
“Right now in Washington, nothing is going to move,” Daley said. “We’ve gone into gridlock for longer than any of us hoped for. This economy will never get better if this long-term fiscal problem is not addressed. And it’s going to take a lot of guts because if they do it right a lot of [Democrats] will lose their elections.”