In order to bridge a colossal partisan divide in Congress, President Barack Obama signed an executive order Thursday (Feb. 18) creating a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The panel, which includes eight Republicans and 10 Democrats, is tasked with finding solutions to the mounting federal debt.
According to John D. Graham, dean of the Indiana University School for Public and Environmental Affairs, President Obama should take a page out of former President George W. Bush's domestic playbook.
"We are living through a very polarized time in U.S. politics," Graham said. "In fact, the forces of polarization may be larger than any president can overcome." According to Graham, the relatively recent trend of polarization is led by party activists and allied media professionals who abhor compromise.
"Instead of practicing bipartisanship with Democratic leaders in Congress, Bush's first-term legislative successes were based on cross-partisan appeal to anywhere from three to 15 Senate Democrats. The commission that Obama has formed may help define an agenda that will permit him to attract limited Republican support in the House and Senate for fiscal reform."
While President Bush had his own difficulties, Graham said he was most effective when he recognized his tenuous political standing, analyzed the competing interests of Congress, and chose policy initiatives with a broad appeal among Republicans and at least some support among key Democrats in the Senate.
"By incorporating a cross-partisan approach, Bush was able to successfully negotiate the political landscape at a time when he had the least amount of support," Graham said.
Graham is the author of the forthcoming book Bush on the Home Front, which examines Bush's successes and failures in the legislation of his domestic policies. He previously served as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (2001-06). Graham can be reached at (812) 855-1432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.