President Obama is going solo.
Having seen his ambitious agenda run aground against Republican recalcitrance, Obama is pivoting to a more unilateral approach to achieve his goals. And when he must go through Congress, Obama has shown he's willing to eschew bipartisanship when it seems like an impossibility.
On Wednesday, the White House released some early details of the president's 2015 budget proposal, which is due out next month. The biggest news is that the budget will propose $56 billion in new spending, while dropping a key compromise that would result in smaller Social Security benefits. The latter idea, known as "chained CPI," would alter how the government calculates benefits increases for social welfare programs, and it's generally opposed by liberals. (You can read our more thorough explainer on chained CPI here.)
That might sound like an insignificant bit of wonky gibberish, but it's actually a sharp reversal. Obama proposed chained CPI in his budget last year, hoping it would convince Republicans to compromise on revenue increases. It was an attempt at striking that mythical "grand bargain" Obama and congressional Republicans have been talking about for years. But Republicans vehemently opposed any new tax revenue, and now Obama is no longer even offering the chained CPI carrot.
"Unfortunately, Republicans refused to even consider the possibility of raising some revenue," said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman. "That is an unfortunate policy choice that Republicans themselves have made."
To be sure, White House budget proposals are largely symbolic documents that outline a president's ideal budget, not the budget that will actually be passed by Congress. But by yanking a GOP-friendly proposal from the outset, Obama has made clear that negotiating with Republicans is a hopeless cause.
Obama compromised with Republicans often during his first term, and often to liberals' dismay. As the GOP became more intractable though, that willingness to negotiate waned. House Republicans in particular have thrown a wrench in the president's agenda, blocking votes on popular bills that already cleared the Senate with bipartisan support.
The divide only widened over the course of last year, with Tea Party–aligned GOPers hijacking the party and pushing it further away from the center. In the resulting chaos, Republicans on multiple occasions couldn't even agree among themselves about what they wanted to achieve.
So when Republicans demanded a series of dwindling ransoms in last October's government funding and debt-ceiling fight, Obama stood firm and insisted he would not compromise. And when the debt ceiling came up again this year, the president, backed by congressional Democrats, refused to talk about hostages. Both times, the GOP caved, giving the president even less reason to bow to GOP pressure in the future.
Meanwhile, Obama has shifted away from directly dealing with Congress when he doesn't have to.
"America does not stand still, and neither will I," Obama said in his State of the Union address last month. "So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."
Making good on that vow, Obama has signed executive orders to streamline business regulations and raise the minimum wage for federal employees to $10.10 per hour. And this week, he called on the EPA to draft stricter fuel standards for large trucks.
Certainly, Republicans aren't completely unwilling to negotiate. They did, after all, compromise on the mini budget deal that passed earlier this month. But that was more about averting another disastrous government shutdown, and hardly a sign of a rosy new era of legislative bipartisanship.
By and large, the GOP has been either unwilling or unable to compromise with the president. Obama, it seems, has now decided that even trying to compromise just isn't worth his time.
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