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ROBINSON: Obama goes wobbly instead using veto power

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- President Obama had the opportunity this week to make an irresponsible Congress face the consequences of its own dumb actions. For reasons I cannot fathom, he took a pass.

Rather than use the veto pen that must be gathering dust in some Oval Office drawer, Obama signed legislation that cushions air travelers from the effects of the crude, cruel budget cuts known as the "sequester." The Federal Aviation Administration is now allowed to shuffle funds around to avoid furloughing air traffic controllers -- thus avoiding flight delays.

At his news conference Tuesday, Obama said he agreed to sign the measure because the alternative was to "impose a whole bunch of delays on passengers." That's true -- and it's precisely why the president should have vetoed this quick-fix bill.

Remember how we got here. Republicans in the House refused to compromise on a far-reaching budget deal, insisting there had to be deep spending cuts but no new revenue. Both sides agreed to a package of across-the-board cuts that were designed specifically to be unacceptable. This Damoclean sword was supposed to provide an incentive for reaching a comprehensive deal. But the gambit failed.

Obama said he would not go along with attempts by Congress to selectively ameliorate the impact of sequestration. After all, the whole point was to make both sides so uncomfortable that they would fall into one another's arms in a desperate embrace of deal-making. The incentive disappears if either side is allowed to alleviate its sharpest pains.

A few weeks of long flight delays, frequent cancellations and crowded airports full of angry, frustrated voters might have concentrated the minds of even the most anti-government Republicans on Capitol Hill. But now, no worries.

Meanwhile, Congress is offering no emergency legislation to restore Head Start funds for preschoolers. Nor is an urgent remedy being designed for poor people who will have to go without their Section 8 housing subsidies. The president could have told Congress that he will agree to make travel more convenient for their jet-set constituents, all right -- if and when they send him a companion bill restoring needed benefits for low-income citizens.

Obama noted Tuesday that even in terms of air travel, the FAA bill was "not a solution." The money that will keep the controllers on the job was originally slated for airport improvements. If these projects are not undertaken, the president said, those who use our aging airports will suffer congestion and delays in the future.

But he signed the thing anyway. Sigh.

A veto would have allowed Republicans to claim that the president was gratuitously making the American people suffer so he could score political points. But the gratuitous harm was done long ago when both sides agreed to this whole sequestration nonsense. It is truly absurd that our highest elected officials would agree to impose measures that they knew were not in the public interest. But that's what they did, and all who had a hand in making this uncomfortable bed should be forced to lie in it.

By agreeing to keep the planes flying on time, Obama keeps public opinion on his side, which should be an asset. But I see no indication that the Republican Party really cares what the public thinks.

About 90 percent of Americans support near-universal background checks for gun purchases, according to polls, but that legislation -- a modest reaction to the horror of Newtown -- couldn't even make it out of the Senate, thanks mostly to GOP opposition. Even prospects for immigration reform, which is clearly in the Republican Party's interest, are uncertain in the House. At the moment, the typical Republican officeholder cares more about avoiding a primary challenge from the Looney-Tunes right than doing what the public wants and needs.

Looking and sounding like the one reasonable man on a ship of fools is good for Obama's political standing, I suppose. But he's no longer running for anything. Somehow, he has to govern until January 2017. In his quest to find a way to work with a hostile Congress, he might consider trying something new.

The next time Congress tries to undo one of the sequestration cuts, Obama should just say no. Let the Republicans jump up and down and call him names. Tell them to sit down and negotiate a proper budget deal, even a grand bargain -- or else live with the pain.

The president should find that forgotten veto pen. And he should use it.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/eugenerobinson.

Comments

NewsReader 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Your political bias is sickening and pathetic. You never cease to amaze me with the rhetorical crap you constantly keep shoveling. Why on earth the GDP continues to regurgitate your nonsense here is beyond me. You and the Washington Post deserve each other.

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Why_not 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Ahhhh...I see. Political bias is ok if it's coming from Bill O' Reilly or Cal Thomas. Typical I suppose.

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notblind 11 months, 3 weeks ago

"For reasons I can't fathom...." hhahhahahhahhahahhahhahahhahhahahhahhahahahhahahhahhahahhahahha

I wonder how long it will take Eugene to realize that Obama ain't what Eugene thinks he is.

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JV 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Barack Obama is a lame-duck president. Nobody listens to what he says anymore, nobody is interested in winning his approval and nobody much cares if he thinks they have “let the country down”. This is typical for a second-term president who has lost all their leverage because they’re no longer running for office and everybody is patiently waiting for the day when he quits the White House.

But Obama's difficult personality has doubled the size of the challenge. Gloating in victory, adolescent in defeat – the Prez doesn’t make it easy to work with him. Why should conservative senators give him a legislative victory after he has spent four years painting them as knuckle-dragging rednecks who hate women and the poor?

America has four more years of this lame-duck president telling them that it has let him down. If only he could tear up the Constitution and rule by diktat he might save himself a little disappointment. Alas, American democracy is a stickler for rules.

Dr Tim Stanley, The Telegraph

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MarkSmith1 11 months, 3 weeks ago

"By agreeing to keep the planes flying on time, Obama keeps public opinion on his side, which should be an asset." You answered you own question here. The only weapon Obama has left against the GOP is public approval.

GOP dug its own grave on this one. Right after 90% vote against gun background check, with Gabbey Gifford watching, they turn around and vote to easy air traffic, right before they head to airport for vacation. GOP will pay for this at election time.

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jldj1976 11 months, 3 weeks ago

"Remember how we got here. Republicans........................ That's a damn lie ---Sequestration was an Obama original ---- HIS IDEA ---- Get your facts straight ---- or are you even a journalist?.........................

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Jan 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Sequestration was a last ditch effort to reach a compromise. The idea behind it was that politicians would have time to form an agreement to stop the devastation to our federal economy that sequestration caused - the unfortunate miscalculation was the GOP preferring tax cuts for the super wealthy to any kind of compromise that would return our government to some kind of fiscal responsibility. Obama has proposed compromised legislation that balanced budget cuts and tax increases - its the GOP that is not interested in any compromise and anyone that votes for a GOP that is more interested in destroying Obama's administrative efforts with a no compromise position is a fool or super wealthy only caring about amassing their own fortunes.

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JV 11 months, 2 weeks ago

More than wobbly. How about a counterpoint from another Wash Post commentator?

Obama: The fall

By Charles Krauthammer

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obama-the-fall/2013/05/02/6fa564c4-b348-11e2-9a98-4be1688d7d84_print.html

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Haughton 11 months, 2 weeks ago

The more the media keeps covering up for BHO's failures, the more damage they are doing to his future legacy. Robinson, et al. are included in this dog and pony show.

http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/obama-legacy-pt-1-many-top-ten-things-black-america-will-have-show-8-years-president-obama

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