There are quite a few issues in the news concerning President Obama and his relationship with Congress and the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate. How does Obama compare with the records...

There are quite a few issues in the news concerning President Obama and his relationship with Congress and the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate. How does Obama compare with the records of previous presidents? What are the prospects for the Congress with a House Republican majority and Senate Democratic majority?

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auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In one way, Congress is doing what it should be doing--functoning as part of the checks and balance system upon which the United States federal government is based. They are supposed to keep the President from acting autonomously and enacting whatever "laws" or policies he wants to enact, and that is kind of what happened with the debt ceiling crisis.

In another way, the Congress is completely ignoring what it is supposed to do, which is to faithfully represent the people who elected them. One poll taken near the time of the debt ceiling crisis showed that 56% of Americans wanted some kind of compromise to happen on this issue. For a long time, that did not happen.

The most hypocritical thing about this whole ordeal, in my opinion, was that President Obama consistently insisted on his position (to raise the debt ceiling without question or significant debate :like we always have") and expected everyone who opposed that position to do all the compromising.

Of course what has really happened is that partisan politics have become the guiding principle for all things in Washington, and that is driven primarily by the elected officials' desire to maintain their offices or, in the case of the President, maintain his political power. Issues like the debt ceiling crisis simply remind us of this. 

In a recent radio address, the President said this:

The way business is done in Washington has to change. Now that these clouds of crisis and uncertainty have lifted, we need to focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do – grow the economy, create good jobs, strengthen the middle class, lay the foundation for broad-based prosperity, and get our fiscal house in order for the long haul.

While his statement is perfectly correct, nothing has changed, and he is as much to blame for that as his "enemies" in Congress. 

Change of this magnitude can only happen when the parties involved put the interests of the people ahead of their own interests. It has happened before, and in some cases it is still happening.

Last night's vote to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of court demonstrated an encouraging bit (albeit a very tiny bit) of bi-partisanship, as members of both parties voted for what their constituents wanted, despite the criticism those 26 Democrats in particular are likely to receive for doing so. 

The President is right; things do have to change. Arguably, he has the largest platform in the world, and he has the ability to start that process. Unfortunately, we always seem to be on the verge of what seems like "THE Most Important Election," and partisan politics are never far behind.

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

When you ask about Obama’s record compared with those of other presidents, I assume that you are asking about their records with regard to their relationships with Congress.  In that case, Obama’s record is rather poor compared to that of many previous presidents.  However, this does not mean that he is the only president who has had problems with Congress.

In this century, presidents have typically had a hard time with Congress.  Both President Bush and President Obama have had very contentious relations with Congress at some points.  This is largely because of the degree to which our country has become politically polarized.  In the Regan era, for example, President Regan was able to work with Democrats like Tip O’Neill because they had some amount of common ground.  Today, Republicans and Democrats are farther apart politically and seem to hate one another more than in the past.  These factors have made it very difficult for presidents to get along with Congress given that Congress (or at least one house of Congress) is often in the hands of the opposing party.

When you ask about the prospects for the Congress, you should be aware that we have had a Democratic Senate and Republican House for the last few years.  We do not need to speculate about its prospects.  We have seen that Congress is able to do very little in this situation.  The House and the Senate tend to cancel one another out.  They are unable to agree on anything of substance.  This is why we have seen Congress having so much trouble actually doing anything in the last few years.

Our country is very politically polarized at the moment and this affects the relationships between presidents and Congress and the degree to which the parts of Congress can work together.

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user5862657 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

Thanks for your prompt reply, but can you tell me a little bit more in detail about Obama's issues with Congress and the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate?

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

President Obama is the first president to have never passed a budget in his first term. He did submit one, but even the Democrats rejected it; moreover, he has missed the deadline to submit a budget 18 times, and has been known to say that he "will not negotiate." This divisiveness between the executive and the legislative branch as well as within the legislature may not improve no matter which party is in office, either, as the political parties seem to be more polarized than ever.

When the the Senate and House of Representatives failed to agree to an appropriations continuing resolution in 2013, there was a government shutdown from October 1 to October 16, 2013. Budget impasse came as a result of the conservative requests to delay or defund "Obamacare" to which the President and the Democratic Senate refused. Also, political disagreement arose over certain continuing resolutions that would keep funding at sequestration level without any additional conditions that would interfere with partisan programs. Simply put, the Democrats did not want conditions placed upon the Affordable Care Act or other social programs, while the Republicans would not agree to some continuing resolutions.

On September 18, 2013, President Obama declared, "Raising the debt ceiling doesn't increase the nation's debt."  But, others disagree. For instance, according to CNS News,

...isn't the fact that the U.S. has hit its debt ceiling "over a hundred times" - and, thus, has had to keep raising it - proof that raising the limit does, in fact, lead to increased debt?

These differences in thought present the problem of the debt ceiling debate.

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steveschoen's profile pic

steveschoen | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

One must remember what the Constitution empowers the President of the United States to do.  The only things they can essentially do that can affect the entire country is sign laws and act as Commander-in-Chief.  The President can't even introduce legislation to Congress.  Given all of this, what laws has come before his desk to sign?  Not many, with all the bipartisan politics going on in Congress.  So, people love to talk about the power the President has to do this and that.  The President in reality doesn't have that much power when it comes to federal law.

Given that, the President does have the power to run the federal government the way he wants to, which in turn can have an effect indirectly on the country.  For instance, Congress can't seem to pass any kind of minimum wage increase (something I can't understand because they all talk about wanting higher wages for the poor and middle class; here is one way they can do it), something that the President can sign into federal law for all to follow.  But, what President Obama did do was sign an executive order stating that the federal government will only work with corporations who pay their all of their employees a minimum wage of something like $10 per hour.  It isn't law; no one will be going to court or jail if they don't abide by it.  But, if those corporations want the federal government business, they will have to follow through with the executive order or lose a huge portion of their business.

When it comes to those compared to other Presidents, Obama's record has been good.  One needs to remember what Obama had to work with when he started.  As well as, one must remember things like the Senate GOP producing some record number of filibusters during Obama's terms in office (see attachment).  As well as, during Bush's terms, the GOP repeatedly and openly had no problem voting to increase the debt ceiling.  This was while we also were at war, which wasn't being paid for with a tax increase for the first time in the history of this country.

Don't get me wrong.  The Dems are just as guilty.  They did nothing but proclaim the Affordable Care Act from 2008-2010 and got it passed, when this country needed so much more, which got many of them voted out of offices nationwide.  Also, Obama did go around, like many Dems did, about the Affordable Care Act, proclaiming things like, "You will be able to keep your doctors", then we find out we can't.  However, I don't consider this that bad a lie since, not uncommon at all, when you change a job and/companies, you may be required to change your doctor given your new healthcare policy.  For me, this is such a meaningless lie when compared to lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as reasons for our invasion, costing our country thousands of lives, countless loss of limbs, not to mention the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis who were killed, and the billions if not trillions of dollars spent on this war.

Not many times, if ever, in the history of this country has a President been given a country in such poor shape, with such bipartisan politics.  In my estimation, given that, President Obama has done a fine job.  And, given that he won each election fairly handedly, most of the country apparently agrees.

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