Barack Obama tried to convince Republicans to cross the aisle and vote for the economic stimulus package by having progressive elements such as investment in infrastructure and family planning removed, while adding right wing items, like the biggest tax cut in history. It didn’t work. Only one Republican voted in favor of the legislation.
Why? By catering to right wing demands, President Obama only encouraged the Republicans to hope that they could hold out for even more. Obama played right into Republican hands by having the Democrats pass legislation a lot more like what the Republicans wanted all along, while allowing the Republicans all to vote against it so that the GOP can say I told you so when the economic stimulus doesn’t work.
Yet, for another important piece of legislation, expanding health care coverage for children (SCHIP), the following Republican senators crossed the aisle:
This number represents one out of every five Republicans in the U.S. Senate – a pretty impressive rate of cooperation.
What made the difference? For the SCHIP legislation, the Democrats in Congress didn’t cave in to Republican demands. Instead, Democrats worked to explain why it’s important for America’s children to have health care – a pretty easy point to make – and they shamed Republicans into joining them. The Democrats stuck to principle on the children’s health care legislation, knowing that they didn’t really need Republican, and a number of Republicans decided to come along for the ride anyway. Thanks to them for doing so.
There’s a lesson for President Obama in his legislative stumble. Stick to your principles, and you’ll persuade. Sacrifice your principles in order to score a win, and your opponents will just use that weakness to outmaneuver you.