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Bob McDonnell's Political Lesson for President Obama Bob McDonnell's Political Lesson for President Obama

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Politics

Bob McDonnell's Political Lesson for President Obama

(Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)()

photo of Josh Kraushaar
February 25, 2013

Supporters of President Obama’s insistence on additional revenue as the only way to avoid the sequester should take a close look across the Potomac River for an alternative way of getting things done.

Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell has helped shepherd a bill that would raise the state’s sales tax and add taxes on wholesale gasoline purchases in order to secure long-term funding for transportation. The conservative governor challenged his own base to secure a lasting legacy, all while appealing to the center. 

The compromise drew opposition from Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican looking to succeed him next year, and support from his Democratic rival, Terry McAuliffe. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal op-ed page and RedState.com’s Erick Erickson ripped the deal, declaring McDonnell’s presidential hopes all but dead. Talk about strange bedfellows.

 

Yet there’s no reason—at least to avert the arbitrary pain of the sequester—that Obama couldn’t agree to smaller, better-targeted spending cuts, without corresponding revenue. The reason the president’s allies refuse? It generally goes like this: the president won reelection, so he holds a mandate to get more revenue through taxes, and polls show support for raising taxes on the wealthy, ergo they support the president’s insistence on a second round of more revenue to avoid the sequester.

Of course, polls can be easily misinterpreted: They showed similar levels of support for tax hikes on the wealthy during the first-term Clinton budget fight, and Democrats faced major congressional losses after the 1993 budget deal.

The truth is that presidents frequently achieve governing successes by taking on their base, providing some goodwill to the opposition party in the process.  George W. Bush’s first legislative push involved working with Ted Kennedy on No Child Left Behind education reform; Bill Clinton shunned the base on welfare reform and NAFTA; and George H.W. Bush broke his “read my lips” pledge on taxes. McDonnell is only the latest in a long line of presidents and governors to make compromises for their own long-term interests.

It’s a lesson that President Obama could learn from as he remains mired in fights with congressional Republicans over the budget.  

A version of this post ran on The Edge, National Journal's daily look at today in Washington -- and what's coming next. The email features analysis from NJ's top correspondents, insights on the biggest stories of the day -- and always a few surprises. Subscribe here.

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