- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2012


A wise colleague of mine likes to say, “If you have no options, you have no problem.” His words perfectly describe the federal government this year, and it’s time for Republicans to embrace the situation.

Never in my 30 years in Washington have the political parties been so far apart. Hate is not too strong a word to describe what one side feels about the other. The resulting stalemate will all but shut down the legislative process until after November’s elections.

Critics are predictably outraged. How terrible, they say. How embarrassing. Why do we even bother sending these fools to Washington? Throw them all out, they advise, and millions of Americans nod.

But nodding is not the same as voting, and voters don’t get to choose whom they’ll blame for nearly nine months. At the moment, it looks as if Congress will feel the pain, but don’t bet on it yet.

Americans don’t send presidents to Washington to campaign for re-election. They send them to govern or at least make a mighty effort to do so. No one pretends President Obama is trying to make laws. Instead, he is taking positions that cause gridlock and score points with targeted audiences.

He wants nothing to happen, and probably he’ll succeed. This has a lot of Republicans - and some Democrats - apoplectic.

It shouldn’t. Sometimes doing nothing is the best answer. That’s the case for the GOP this year.

Sure, Republicans wish they could cut the budget deficit, curb regulations and somehow lower tax rates. Maybe one day that will happen, maybe even next year. The smart money is busy laying the groundwork for that possibility.

In the meantime, Republicans should accept the inevitable. They have no other option. Serious legislative initiatives are not possible without presidential cooperation, and the president is not going to cooperate.

No options, no problem. There’s nothing Republicans can do. So they should do nothing.

Well, almost nothing. The House Republican leadership plans to lay out a series of job-creating proposals and push most of them to a vote.

Sounds like a good idea. In fact, they ought to explain carefully what they had in mind and why the House took action. A proposal a week is a pretty good pace.

Eventually, voters will notice that the House GOP is at least trying and the president isn’t. That’s good for something.

But nothing will be the result, and that, in the end, will be what matters. The Democrat-controlled Senate will be stultified at the president’s direction. No new laws - or very, very few of them - will emerge. The president’s promises of a grand and glorious future on the campaign trail will sound hollow by comparison.

The Republican presidential nominee legitimately can complain about a do-nothing president. The one thing Mr. Obama did - when his party controlled both chambers of Congress - was to enact Obamacare, and look how that turned out, the nominee can say.

Then, when the public rebelled and turned the House Republican in 2010, the president chose to campaign rather than govern.

He made sure nothing would happen, and that can be a powerful bumper sticker.

Despite the hyperbolic rhetoric that fills the airwaves, most voters understand that compromise is not a dirty word. They accept that not everyone gets everything he wants in Washington or in life.

So when a president decides to take the easy route, to protect his own hide rather than take a risk for everyone else, his opponents have an argument that has real authority. They have an argument that’s genuine and widely understood.

Republicans are worried that their presidential choices are limited, damaged or both. Some fret that the economy is picking up steam, depriving that candidate of his best debating point come November.

That’s wasted energy. A presidential re-election, unless badly mishandled, is a referendum on the president’s first term. This president has chosen to suffocate the legislative process and kill any hope of compromise and progress.

Does a chief executive who did nothing for years except talk deserve more time at the top? If the Republicans pitch the election this way, they have a chance to win.

They also don’t have many other alternatives. In fact, they have none.

Doing nothing is the Republicans’ only - and smartest - option.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.

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