Learning a valuable lesson

LEARNING A VALUABLE LESSON…. From President Obama’s perspective, his White House has reached out to congressional Republicans, only to see the outstretched hand slapped away. It seems the president has grown less inclined to engage those who aren’t interested in being credible governing partners.

In a meeting with House Republicans at the White House Thursday, President Obama reminded the minority that the last time he reached out to them, they reacted with zero votes — twice — for his stimulus package. And then he reminded them again. And again. And again.

A GOP source familiar with the meeting said that the president was extremely sensitive — even “thin-skinned” — to the fact that the stimulus bill received no GOP votes in the House. He continually brought it up throughout the meeting.

Obama also offered payback for that goose egg. A major overhaul of the health care system, he told the Republican leadership, would be done using a legislative process known as reconciliation, meaning that the GOP won’t be able to filibuster it…. Democratic aides said that Obama made clear to the GOP leadership that he would continue to work in a bipartisan way, but that they didn’t have veto power over health care policy.

Well, good. The flaw in the stimulus package, and the process around it, was the administration’s efforts to aim for an 80-vote majority in the Senate, including all kinds of provisions the White House assumed would garner GOP support. By the time the president realized the minority party wanted nothing but tax cuts and spending cuts, it was too late to make the bill more ambitious. Republicans showed their appreciation for Obama’s efforts by trashing him, blasting his recovery efforts, and rejecting it in large numbers. Since then, the minority party hasn’t even tried to play a constructive role on any issue.

Why, with this recent history in mind, would the White House expect a serious, good-faith process with Republicans on health care?

It reflects an apparent shift in the president’s approach. The Politico reported yesterday, “The truth is that Obama aides don’t really care if they win over Republicans, as long as the public sees the president as making a genuine attempt at it. In fact, some Obama officials think he’s better off with a standoff against an unpopular Republican Party. ”

That certainly makes sense. The GOP is awfully unpopular, and the more the administration can pass its agenda without having to water it down for the right, the better it is for the president.

By any reasonable measure, Republicans just don’t have anything substantive to offer right now. By their own admission, GOP lawmakers want to mount an insurgency and consider their top goal to be driving down Democratic poll numbers.

So, why pretend? The parties disagree with one another. They want to take the country in very different directions. The majority party will offer proposals, and the minority party will criticize the proposal with varying degrees of rage.

If the White House really is done taking Republican outreach seriously, it’s about time.