Liberal Congressmen Thinking of Backing Obama on Syria to Save His Domestic Agenda Are Fooling Themselves

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 9 2013 10:40 AM

The Worst Argument for Backing Obama on Syria

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President Obama speaks during a press conference at the end of the G-20 Leaders' Summit on Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Photo by Sergey Guneev/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images

It's inevitable that this argument will be made, but the thought circulating on Capitol Hill this week that liberal Democrats ought to back the White House on the use of force in Syria because President Obama's domestic agenda will otherwise be killed is totally nuts.

Just step back and remember that the roadblock to Obama's domestic agenda is not subtle or in any way complicated. The problem is that a majority of members of the House of Representatives are Republicans, and on issue after issue the majority of the House Republican caucus disagrees with Obama's proposals and intends to use its control of the chamber to block them. That's the issue. They won the election, and they have the power to block whatever they want to block. That's not going to change if Obama wins the vote on Syria, and it's not going to change if Obama loses the vote on Syria.

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Now what's true is that if Obama wins the vote on Syria and military action in Syria turns out to be a rip-roaring success that makes all of his critics look like fools, that might shift the political calculus on the Hill marginally. But if you think that military action will be a rip-roaring success, that's a good reason all its own.

But the basic reality of the domestic policy debate is that there's no set of tricks the White House can use to befuddle House Republicans into allowing the passage of bills they want to block. The odds of reaching agreement on something or other aren't zero (I, for example, still don't think immigration reform is 100 percent dead), but they have everything to do with the sincere beliefs and desires of Republican members of Congress and nothing to do with Obama's political capital or whatever.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.