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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Playing Chicken

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on February 9, 2010.
President Obama has now thrown down the gauntlet to Republicans to demonstrate that their alleged willingness to work with him on big national challenges is not just a pose.
On one, very high-profile track, Obama has invited congressional Republicans to participate in a public forum on health care reform. After some talk among GOPers of insisting on preconditions like abandonment of the current House and Senate bills, and of any intention of using reconciliation to enact health reform measures in the Senate, it now looks like Republicans will show up. That’s probably in part because a new ABC-Washington Post poll shows Americans blaming the GOP much more than the president for intransigence.
Despite Democratic fears that Obama is going to screw up the highly fragile prospects for final congressional action on health care reform, all he’s publicly said in the way of concessions to the GOP is that he’s willing to take action on medical malpractice insurance reforms if Republicans are willing to get out of opposition to serious action to cover the uninsured. That’s probably not a deal Republicans will seriously consider.
Meanwhile, on another front, the White House is pushing Republicans to make a deal on jobs legislation.
This is a really tricky proposition for Republicans. They’ve spent months attacking any jobs bill as a “second stimulus” bill, which in their vocabulary is a deadly insult. And they’ve certainly boxed themselves into a proposition that any bill significantly increasing budget deficits is a no-go.
But on the other hand, the administration has made it clear that targeted tax cuts for businesses creating new jobs would be the centerpiece of a jobs bill, and it will be difficult for Republicans to reject that in the current environment. At the same time, though, GOPers have consistently argued that across-the-board, not targeted, tax cuts, is what they demand, even though across-the-board cuts benefit big corporations and/or wealthy individuals, and tend to cost a whole lot.
It’s pretty clear the White House is playing chicken with the GOP: offering bipartisan cooperation, but in a way that either exposes Republican self-contradictions and hypocrisy, or makes them finally cooperate on more-or-less his terms. This may represent a revival and intensification by Obama of his controversial “grassroots bipartisanship” strategy, just when most observers in both parties thought it was dead.
The stakes in this game of chicken are very, very big.

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