- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2010


The massive snowstorm this week in Washington was a good reminder about the value of doing nothing.

Not “nothing” in a personal sense, but rather, in a professional one.

In normal times, the nation’s capital grinds to a halt at the mere threat of rain. So the Blizzard of 2010 that dumped upwards of two feet of snow here created a days-long crisis that shut down everything official.

The situation was a metaphor for the broader stalemate in Washington. With Democrats no longer able to pass anything they want in the Senate, Congress is experiencing a kind of policy “Snowmageddon” of its own.

And like the weather kind, the great work stoppage in the capital may seem like a disaster on its face, but, in fact, it is a blessing.

In the snow, small gestures mean a lot. Neighbors help neighbors. They shovel. They free cars from the ice. They deliver food and, when the electricity goes off, they provide shelter to those in need.

The outcomes are not earth-shaking. At most, people are able to maintain a semblance of regular life. Grand dreams are neither sought nor accomplished. Just getting through the day - safe and warm - is considered a major victory.

Official Washington now faces a similar outlook. Although the president still talks a big game, he does not have the votes - and does not have the political clout - to achieve his grandest aspirations.

Comprehensive health care reform, climate change legislation or anything else of that size will have to wait for another day, or maybe another decade.

That means Mr. Obama faces a choice. He can sit in his house and stew about the obstacles he faces, or he can go out, engage with the neighbors and come up with some small gestures that will make things better in the end.

Sitting and stewing is what Democrats appear to be doing so far. The House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, seems to think that passing things - especially large pieces of legislation - and sending them to the Senate, constitutes success.

In fact, as we learned during the recent Republican reign in Congress, the House routinely sent bills to their graveyard in the other chamber. Those weren’t wins; they were delusions.

Blaming past presidents also makes no sense this far from the last election.

That’s why the right answer for Mr. Obama is to venture out and try to get some small things done.

Incremental change is not so terrible, especially when other, larger options no longer exist. During the snowstorm, many people would have loved to have gone to a movie or out for pizza, but they were stuck at home instead.

The president and his party are stuck as well, and they should accept that fact.

The first thing they need to do is to deal with the neighbors in an honest way. The health care summit at the end of this month is anything but straightforward; it’s a clever way for the president to show up his neighbors - in this case his Republican neighbors - by putting them in front of cameras at Blair House.

Mr. Obama will make it look like the Republicans are ganging up on him and, in that way, score political points. But that would not advance the cause of cooperation.

If the president really wanted to help his neighbors - and they wanted the chance to help him - he would meet in private with Republican leaders and devise the outline of a new and much smaller health care plan.

To be fair, Republicans haven’t been acting very neighborly, either. They would just as soon leave Mr. Obama in the snowdrift of policy as dig him out.

Neither side is well served to maintain that view. Faced with such serious economic and national security problems, they should try to be unselfish, to act as if they were caught in a blizzard.

In particular, they need to work toward small goals. In the real-life storm, no one prepared a feast, went on a long journey by car or ran a marathon. People were happy to have enough food, to stay among friends and to have only minor back pain after a long day of shoveling.

Congress should take solace in similarly mundane achievements. Keeping the deficit from growing larger while adding a few jobs - that should be cause for celebration. Finding a few health insurance reforms to pass - with the backing of both Republicans and Democrats - would be an excellent day in the neighborhood.

Snow days do not need to be lost days; in fact, quite the opposite. The president should take a snow day himself, for the good of his presidency.

Jeffrey Birnbaum is a columnist for The Washington Times, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations. His firm represents health companies.

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