Barack Obama didn’t have to lose this fight; he didn’t have to start it.
On its face, the president’s request to address the joint houses of Congress the first day after their summer recess looks reasonable. But reasonable is not the byword of Washington politics this year, and Obama was foolish to suggest the gimmick of going head-to-head against a Republican presidential debate.
Guess what? House Speaker John Boehner sneered and said “no,” a response to which The New York Times professes shock today. But the president, typically criticized for being too measured, this time came off as the one looking strident. Even James Carville, the Democratic strategist who suggests that Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry wants to “repeal the 20th century,” told ABC News that he thought Obama’s effort to pre-empt the Republican debate was “out of bounds.”
So let’s agree the president was simply stupid. That, however, pales beside the shenanigans of Republicans this week — actions that have gotten far less play.
OK, Eric Cantor is only the second most powerful Republican in the House, not the president. But Cantor was at it again this week, trying to make the poor evacuees from Hurricane Irene pawns of his hellbent insistence (suddenly discovered after years of supporting the Iraq war) that every dollar in the U.S. budget needs to be accounted for.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, Cantor, the Republican House Majority Leader, says he believes “new federal spending for hurricane recovery must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.”
Republican governors in hard-hit states weighed in quickly, saying relief could not await the outcome of another political donnybrook. But in today’s New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman writes that, regardless of the outcome of this round, Cantor’s threat is part of an emerging pattern that began during the debt ceiling debate. He writes:
Not long ago, a political party seeking to change U.S. policy would try to achieve that goal by building popular support for its ideas, then implementing those ideas through legislation. That, after all, is how our political system was designed to work.
But today’s G.O.P. has decided to bypass all that and go for a quicker route. Never mind getting enough votes to pass legislation; it gets what it wants by threatening to hurt America if its demands aren’t met. That’s what happened with the debt-ceiling fight, and now it’s what’s happening over disaster aid. In effect, Mr. Cantor and his allies are threatening to take hurricane victims hostage, using their suffering as a bargaining chip.
Speaking of his party’s recent tactics, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, told the Financial Times that, “This debt ceiling debate … was an astounding lack of responsible leadership by many in the Republican Party.”
Still it is not the party’s national leaders who win this week’s “sickeningly spiteful” award. No, that goes to the Pima County Republican Party. It was holding a fund-raising drive in the district represented by Gabrielle Giffords, the Democratic Congresswoman who had part of her brain blown away in a massacre in Tucson this January.
And what was the GOP’s idea of a gag raffle ticket award, Huffington Post reports? “For just $10, readers can purchase a raffle ticket (out of 125 offered) for a chance to win a brand new handgun. Not just any handgun, but a Glock 23.”
In case you are wondering, Glock manufactured the gun used to shoot Giffords.