News & Politics

In Obama’s Words, The Most Obstructionist GOP House In Decades

The president vented at Friday’s White House press conference.

Photo Credit: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

Congress is now on a five-week break. But before the House adjourned on Friday—after passing a barricade-the-borders and deport-the-migrant-children immigration bill that will not pass the Senate and would be vetoed by the White House, President Obama vented about the GOP’s obstructionism at a press conference—particularly in the House. 

“The point is that on a range of these issues, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s reducing the deficit, whether it’s rebuilding our infrastructure, we have consistently put forward proposals that in previous years and previous administrations would not have been considered radical or left wing; they would have been considered pretty sensible, mainstream approaches to solving problems,” Obama said. “I include under that, by the way, the Affordable Care Act. That’s a whole other conversation."

“And in circumstances where even basic, common-sense, plain, vanilla legislation can’t pass because House Republicans consider it somehow a compromise of their principles, or giving Obama a victory, then we’ve [the White House] got to take action [by executive orders].  Otherwise, we’re not going to be making progress on the things that the American people care about.”

What follows are Obama’s words, taken from a White House transcript, on seven domestic policy issue areas where the GOP refuses to budge.

1. Roads and Bridges—Infrastructure: “I've been pushing for common-sense ideas like rebuilding our infrastructure in ways that are sustained over many years and support millions of good jobs and help businesses compete…

“It's good that Congress was able to at least fund transportation projects for a few more months before leaving town -- although it falls far short of the kind of infrastructure effort that we need that would actually accelerate the economy.  But for the most part, the big-ticket items, the things that would really make a difference in the lives of middle-class families, those things just are not getting done.”  

2. Middle-class Economic Security: “I've been advocating on behalf of raising the minimum wage, making it easier for working folks to pay off their student loans; fair pay, paid leave.  All these policies have two things in common:  All of them would help working families feel more stable and secure, and all of them so far have been blocked or ignored by Republicans in Congress… 

“A student loan bill that would help folks who have student loan debt consolidate and refinance at lower rates -- that didn’t pass.  The transportation bill that they did pass just gets us through the spring, when we should actually be planning years in advance.  States and businesses are raising the minimum wage for their workers because this Congress is failing to do so.” 

3. Immigration and Border Crisis: “We all agree that there’s a problem that needs to be solved in a portion of our southern border.  And we even agree on most of the solutions.  But instead of working together -- instead of focusing on the 80 percent where there is agreement between Democrats and Republicans, between the administration and Congress -- House Republicans, as we speak, are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere, that can't pass the Senate and that if it were to pass the Senate I would veto.  They know it…  

“A bipartisan bill passed out of the Senate, co-sponsored by not just Democrats but some very conservative Republicans who recognize that the system currently is broken and if, in fact we put more resources on the border, provide a path in which those undocumented workers who’ve been living here for a long time and may have ties here are coming out of the shadows, paying their taxes, paying a fine, learning English -- if we fix the legal immigration system so it’s more efficient, if we are attracting young people who may have studied here to stay here and create jobs here, that that all is going to be good for the economy, it’s going to reduce the deficit, it might have forestalled some of the problems that we’re seeing now in the Rio Grande Valley with these unaccompanied children. 

“And so we have a bipartisan bill, bipartisan agreement supported by everybody from labor to the evangelical community to law enforcement.  So the argument isn’t between me and the House Republicans.  It’s between the House Republicans and Senate Republicans, and House Republicans and the business community, and House Republicans and the evangelical community.  I’m just one of the people they seem to disagree with on this issue… 

“So now we have a short-term crisis with respect to the Rio Grande Valley.  They say we need more resources, we need tougher border security in this area where these unaccompanied children are showing up.  We agree.  So we put forward a supplemental to give us the additional resources and funding to do exactly what they say we should be doing, and they can’t pass the bill.  They can’t even pass their own version of the bill.  So that’s not a disagreement between me and the House Republicans; that’s a disagreement between the House Republicans and the House Republicans.” 

4. Ambassadors Not Appointed To Hot Spots: “Even basic things like approving career diplomats for critical ambassadorial posts aren't getting done.  Last night, for purely political reasons, Senate Republicans, for a certain period of time, blocked our new ambassador to Russia.  It raised such an uproar that finally they went ahead and let our Russian ambassador pass -- at a time when we are dealing every day with the crisis in Ukraine. 

“They’re still blocking our ambassador to Sierra Leone, where there’s currently an Ebola outbreak.  They’re blocking our ambassador to Guatemala, even as they demand that we do more to stop the flow of unaccompanied children from Guatemala.  There are a lot of things that we could be arguing about on policy -- that's what we should be doing as a democracy -- but we shouldn’t be having an argument about placing career diplomats with bipartisan support in countries around the world where we have to have a presence.”

5. Unwillingness To Compromise: “If, in fact, House Republicans are concerned about me acting independently of Congress -- despite the fact that I’ve taken fewer executive actions than my Republican predecessor or my Democratic predecessor before that, or the Republican predecessor before that -- then the easiest way to solve it is passing legislation. Get things done.

“On the supplemental [budget appropriation], we agreed on 80 percent of the issues. There were 20 percent of the issues that perhaps there were disagreements between Democrats and Republicans.  As I said to one Republican colleague who was down here that I was briefing about some national security issues, why wouldn’t we just go ahead and pass the 80 percent that we agree on and we’ll try to work to resolve the differences on the other 20 percent?  Why wouldn’t we do that?  And he didn't really have a good answer for it.

“So there’s no doubt that I can always do better on everything, including making additional calls to Speaker Boehner, and having more conversations with some of the House Republican leadership.  But in the end, the challenge I have right now is that they are not able to act even on what they say their priorities are, and they're not able to work and compromise even with Senate Republicans on certain issues.  And they consider what have been traditionally Republican-supported initiatives, they consider those as somehow a betrayal of the cause.” 

6. Refusal To Loan Money To Exporting Business: “Take the example of the Export-Import Bank.  This is an interesting thing that's happened.  This is a program in which we help to provide financing to sell American goods and products around the world.  Every country does this.  It’s traditionally been championed by Republicans.  For some reason, right now the House Republicans have decided that we shouldn’t do this -- which means that when American companies go overseas and they're trying to close a sale on selling Boeing planes, for example, or a GE turbine, or some other American product, that has all kinds of subcontractors behind it and is creating all kinds of jobs, and all sorts of small businesses depend on that sale, and that American company is going up against a German company or a Chinese company, and the Chinese and the German company are providing financing and the American company isn’t, we may lose that sale.  

“When did that become something that Republicans opposed?  It would be like me having a car dealership for Ford, and the Toyota dealership offers somebody financing and I don't.  We will lose business and we’ll lose jobs if we don’t pass it.” 

7. Basic Governing Isn’t A Policy Disagreement: “There’s some big issues where I understand why we have differences.  On taxes, Republicans want to maintain some corporate loopholes I think need to be closed because I think that we should be giving tax breaks to families that are struggling with child care or trying to save for a college education.  On health care, obviously their view is, is that we should not be helping folks get health care, even though it’s through the private marketplace.  My view is, is that in a country as wealthy as ours, we can afford to make sure that everybody has access to affordable care. 

“Those are legitimate policy arguments.  But getting our ambassadors confirmed?  These are career diplomats, not political types.  Making sure that we pass legislation to strengthen our borders and put more folks down there?  Those shouldn’t be controversial.  And I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an example of where I wouldn’t welcome some reasonable efforts to actually get a bill passed out of Congress that I could sign.” 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).