The Obama campaign has finally released the transcript of his endorsement interview with the Des Moines Register–and it is clear why they were reluctant to do so: the President says he has “absolutely” no regrets about ignoring the economy during the first two years of his term, when Democrats controlled Congress.
Here is the key part of the exchange:
Q: Yes, that begs a question from us, Mr. President. Some say you had a super majority in your first two years and had this incredible opportunity, but because of what you were talking about, as you were running, you had to go to get Obamacare done. Do you have any regrets taking on some of the economic issues, some of the issues that we’re talking about for your second term, that when you had the chance, so to speak, during your first — do you have any regrets that you didn’t do that at that time?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely not, Laura. Remember the context. First of all, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has imposed an ironclad filibuster from the first day I was in office. And that’s not speculation. I mean, this is — it’s amply recorded. He gave a speech saying, my task is to defeat the President.
So we were able to pass emergency action with the stimulus, but we had to get two votes from Republicans…
Obama’s response is misleading. Republicans made no such filibuster threat at the outset of his first term. He refers to remarks made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in late 2010, not in late 2008 or early 2009. Republicans in fact attempted to work together with the then-popular Obama before being rebuffed (“I won“).
In addition, as journalist Bob Woodward points out in The Price of Politics, McConnell’s remark about his “top priority” being to deny Obama a second term was taken out of context (McConnell had stressed a desire to work with Obama if he changed his approach). Even MSNBC’s Morning Joe (!) felt compelled to apologize on the air for misreporting McConnell’s remark. Obama has no such scruples, and simply repeats the lie as an excuse.
Even if they had wanted to, Republicans could not have imposed a filibuster anyway. Obama is correct that Democrats only had a filibuster-proof majority for a period of several months in 2009-2010, but that was no great obstacle to his agenda. The additional vote or two needed to break Republican opposition to the stimulus, for example, had been remarkably easy to obtain. And when Republicans did recover their ability to filibuster, with the surprise election of Scott Brown from Massachusetts in 2010, Democrats simply used reconciliation to pass Obamacare, avoiding the filibuster altogether. The fact is that Obama wielded power not seen in decades.
Obama attempts to describe the overhaul of the health care system as “a central economic priority for the country,” but that is a giant stretch, and is an opinion not widely shared by Americans at the time–or since.
In fact, it is arguable that the passage of Obamacare dramatically slowed job creation and economic recovery. A graph from the Heritage Foundation makes a compelling case that Obamacare was a dramatic economic drag:
No regrets for putting the economy on hold for two years while pursuing a deeply ideological, profoundly unpopular, and completely ineffective agenda. No wonder voters are skeptical of Obama’s second-term agenda.