WHY COMPROMISE WITH THESE GUYS IS IMPOSSIBLE, PART MCCXVII…. I can only hope folks in the West Wing take a moment to consider what incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told Slate‘s John Dickerson the other day.
Debates about the past are tiresome, but as with budgets, it’s instructive to measure each side’s baseline view in order to measure future behavior. If they show a little give, they might have it in them to give in the big way Ryan and others say they’ll have to in order to get anything done.
Obama had said he could have done more to work with Republicans. Did the GOP share any of the blame?
“No, it’s all the Democrats’ fault,” Ryan said. “We’re great. We have halos over our heads,” he added sarcastically. “How do you want me to answer that?” he asked. I told him that truthfully would be fine.
He seemed boxed-in. Even if he believed Republicans shared some blame, he couldn’t admit it. “They had to make a decision,” he said, referring to the president and Democratic leaders. “Do we work with these Republicans and do we meet in the middle? But we don’t have to because we have all the votes. They made a choice to go it on their own, and that’s when we had to protect ourselves.”
Ryan went on to say Republicans sent some letters and made some calls to White House officials, but nothing came of it.
When Dickerson pressed further, asking if Republican bore no responsibility at all, Ryan simply “repeated his answer.”
In other words, the partisan conflicts of the last two years are, according to one of the House Republican caucus’ leading members, entirely the president’s fault. That’s as far as he’s willing to go — 100% blame for the other side.
Dickerson added in his piece on this, “Now, presented with this anecdote, liberals will have a predictable — and not unreasonable — response: And you want to try to work with these people, Mr. President?”
Actually, yes, that happens to be my first response, italics and all.
My second response is to note that Ryan has no idea what he’s talking about. President Obama practically begged congressional Republicans to work with him on everything from the stimulus to health care, financial regulatory reform to energy. The GOP minority not only refused to compromise or negotiate, they conceded, publicly and on the record, that this was a deliberate strategy — even in a time of crisis, Republicans decided it was important to deny Democrats victories for their own partisan purposes.
My third response is to note that when the GOP did express a willingness to present actual policy proposals, they tended to be stark raving mad. Seriously. Their response to the economic crisis was a truly insane five-year spending freeze. They came up with a health care reform plan that didn’t bother to cover the uninsured, or extend protections to those with pre-existing conditions. On Wall Street reform, national security, student loans, and other high-profile issues, it became practically impossible to “meet in the middle,” as Ryan put it, because Republicans weren’t operating in the realm of mainstream reality.
And finally, there was this compelling observation from the New York Times‘ David Brooks, reflecting on the GOP the other day, including Paul Ryan: “[M]y problem with the Republican Party right now, including Paul, is that if you offered them 80-20, they say no. If you offered them 90-10, they’d say no. If you offered them 99-1 they’d say no. And that’s because we’ve substituted governance for brokerism, for rigidity that Ronald Reagan didn’t have.”