President Obama’s reelection campaign managed to community-organize its way to electoral victory and a second term. Now we’ll find out whether the same kind of grassroots approach can help Obama push his policy agenda through a divided Congress. Rallying voters behind a candidate is one thing; it’s quite another to rally citizens behind a plan to reduce the deficit and avert end-of-year spending cuts and tax increases, and then translate that support into legislative action.
“I’d be hard pressed to find out how those—which are very useful skills—in a direct way benefit a bargain,” Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said of organizing a group of citizens behind a common goal.
Deal-making in a deeply divided Congress requires negotiating with party leaders in the House and Senate. Sweet-talking moderates can go only so far, Ornstein said. And Republican leaders who hold their own power and leverage aren’t likely to be cowed by calls to their offices from angry Obama supporters.
“Part of it is, are you going to be able to get, say, McConnell to step aside while 40 senators from both sides work out a bargain?” Ornstein said of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Persuading House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to call a vote on a deal unpopular with his caucus—as any bipartisan agreement is sure to be—is another challenge.
Obama is already planning to head out across the country to rally the public behind his insistence that a deal include both higher taxes on the wealthy and spending cuts, The New York Times reported on Monday. The president also plans to maintain his grassroots organization to leverage public support, according to The Times. Last cycle, vestiges of Obama’s 2008 field organization were incorporated into the Democratic National Committee to further Democratic policy goals.
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