Op-Ed : Ideology Or Practicality In 2010?
If President Barack Obama doesn't make 2010 the year in which he pivoted toward a different governing style, historiographers may well look back upon his presidency as the era of squandered opportunities.
Let's remember: The president was swept into office by campaigning on a simple message of "change" as the great unifier. He vowed to transcend partisan divisions and the push and pull of Washington special interests to restore the promise of the American dream for everyone. And with Republicans and Democrats alike clamoring for action to repair the economy, the president stepped into office with a unique opportunity to unite the country around a pragmatic program to create jobs and set the economy on a long-term path to prosperity and fiscal sustainability.
From Obama's first day in office, we stood ready to work with him on common-sense, mainstream solutions to return the economy to prosperity and get Americans working again. In fact, just two weeks after his Inauguration, I personally handed the president the Republican Economic Recovery Plan, designed to create twice the jobs at half the cost of the Democrats' now heavily unpopular $800 billion "stimulus" program. And in our last meeting in December, I delivered the GOP no-cost jobs plan to Obama and his economic team.
Despite efforts like these to work together, the Obama administration, in tandem with Democrats on Capitol Hill, has forged ahead with a rigidly ideological agenda that has compromised America's ability to create sustainable jobs and overcome our nation's most pressing problems. Reasonable people everywhere -- Republicans, Democrats and independents -- are understandably questioning whether candidate Obama was merely taking them for a ride.
It didn't have to be this way. From the stimulus to the budget to health care, Republicans have offered substantive solutions on every piece of major legislation in a good-faith effort to get things done for Americans facing tremendous challenges. During the rare occasions when we have held discussions at the White House, the president has paid our proposals mere lip service when the cameras are on, only to rebuff our ideas in their entirety once the meeting ends. His cool indifference to our solutions, proposals and viewpoints has resulted in more ineffective -- and sometimes harmful -- policies.
It's not fair to blame any one person or political party for the severe job losses our economy has suffered. But there can be little doubt that Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic-controlled Congress have made a bad environment worse. It's troubling enough that their ideological pursuits -- card check, cap and trade and the push for government-run health care, to name a few -- are firmly outside the mainstream; it's almost tragic that their agenda has created such great uncertainty in the marketplace that hiring is now infinitely more unpalatable for entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes.
A November 2009 poll taken by the National Federation of Independent Business asked small businesses to name their single most important problem. Not surprisingly, "taxes" and "government regulations and red tape" finished second and third, respectively ("poor sales" finished first).
Looking forward to 2010, one of Obama's biggest challenges will be to stop perpetuating an environment of uncertainty with the threat of even more oppressive regulations and red tape, skyrocketing deficits and tax increases that will stymie job creation.
With the State of the Union address only weeks away, it won't be long before we see whether Democrats are willing to consider the type of change that Americans want. In 2010, we will learn whether ideology or practicality will be their guide.
Will the White House and its allies in Congress bring the sunlight they promised to the shadowy health care deliberations taking place behind closed doors, or will they continue to keep the American people in the dark as they jam through their highly partisan legislation?
How will they handle terrorism? Will they cast aside political correctness to keep the American people secure, or will they adhere to the politically correct mind-set with which we seek plea deals with the worst terrorists and afford them all the rights entitled to ordinary American criminals -- despite the harm it may cause to our immediate intelligence-gathering capabilities?
The backlash to the ideological agenda originating in our nation's capital has opened the spigot for a rush of Democratic retirements. I have heard of Democrats who fear that their leaders have turned a deaf ear to millions of Americans by forcing an unfocused agenda that many of their constituents find far outside the mainstream. Others are fed up by the president's broken promise of transparency and his decision to keep all health care negotiations, horse-trading and secret deals behind closed doors. And last month, Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama announced he was leaving the Democratic Caucus to become a Republican. When a member decides to leave a 258-seat majority to join a rebuilding minority, it is evident that the majority party has grown severely disconnected from the American people.
We can only hope the administration, having already exhausted much of the support it enjoyed upon taking power, will find a better approach and begin to work with Republicans in 2010 to move the country forward.
Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor is the House Republican whip.