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der Tagesspiegel, Germany

First Yes, Then No

By Christoph von Marschall

Translated By Ron Argentati

16 January 2013

Edited by Gillian Palmer

Germany - der Tagesspiegel - Original Article (German)

Republicans are blocking Obama's pick for defense secretary — as well as themselves.

The highway of congressional opposition is paved with a lot of “no's." Republicans say the only way Obama and his Democrats can hope to get anything done is if he surrenders completely to their wishes. They block the president in the House of Representatives however they can. That earned them the nickname “The Party of No.” But despite all that — or perhaps because of it — Obama was reelected.

Whoever wants to convince the public must occasionally say “yes” and also be willing to compromise when necessary. That's the warning from moderate conservatives in the Republican Party. The internal struggle is being waged in private, but no less bitterly than the public showdown between the president and the congressional opposition.

Senator Marco Rubio, a rising star with White House ambitions for 2016, has received at least 100,000 faxes from arch-conservative individuals and groups warning him that he will be endangering his career if he supports immigration reform.

Republicans are arguing over the right mixture of “yes” and “no.” That often makes it appear that they have no clue what to do. They're currently blocking confirmation of Chuck Hagel, Obama's pick for secretary of defense. That's unprecedented in American history and they're obviously concerned about the sort of public impression that makes. Now they're saying they will end their obstruction next week, provided they receive no disqualifying information about Hagel during that time. They're being ridiculed in the media: Several senators up for reelection in 2014 apparently feel it necessary to reassure the party base that their militant opposition to Obama is still intact.

The discrepancies in budget policy are especially great. Republicans see themselves as the champions of fiscal discipline and accuse Obama of recklessly increasing the debt. In the summer of 2011, they were the ones responsible for getting Congress to come up with the sequestration rule that required automatic cuts in 2013 in the event there was no agreement on the budget. But the sequester proved unpopular. Conservatives object to the fact that half the savings come from the defense budget, while the rest of society fears that the cuts will be to programs on which they depend.

Initially, Republicans tried to make the defense budget off limits to cuts. The closer March gets, the more Republicans have been calling the looming cuts the “Obama sequester” as if the whole idea came from the White House rather than from Capitol Hill at the urging of the arch-conservatives. Democrats say they're willing to take another look at social program cuts as long as Republicans agree to revenue increases. But Republicans reject that approach. Conservative budget hawks are demanding a change in course: Their party should proudly defend the program cuts in order to defend their reputation as the party of budget discipline.

This zig-zag course initially helps Obama while the Republicans wait for the appearance of a leader capable of coming up with a credible strategic plan that will replace this haphazard mix of first “yes” and then “no.”



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