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Opinion: Columnists

Philip Klein: Republicans should execute 'Maneuver X'

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Opinion,Philip Klein,Columnists,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

The main character in the 1994 film "Barcelona" describes a sales technique he calls "Maneuver X." When facing reluctance on the part of the buyer, he says, a salesman should step back and remove all pressure to change the dynamic of the situation.

In the movie, the character attempts to apply the technique to romance. Republicans should apply it to their dealings with President Obama.

Over the past two years, Republicans have been giving the hard sell on serious spending cuts and fundamental reforms to the nation's broken entitlement system. They've viewed every potential crisis -- a possible government shutdown, the threat of a debt ceiling breach and the prospect of the nation sailing over the "fiscal cliff" -- as an opportunity to corner Obama into agreeing to tackle the nation's mounting debt problem.

This strategy has created a dynamic in which Obama has successfully portrayed Republicans as reckless, incapable of governance and willing to put the economy at risk to make a political statement. He's been able to deflect questions about his own lack of action on deficits by blaming Republican intransigence. In the end, Republicans have very little positive to show for it. There has been no action on entitlements. Obama has claimed credit for the modest spending cuts Republicans forced him to accept. He was re-elected, and Republicans failed to capture the Senate.

There's no reason to believe this dynamic will change in Obama's second term if Republicans continue to pursue the same strategy. And there's every reason to believe it will get worse. Given his post-re-election bravado, it's even less likely Obama will agree to Republican demands than it was during his first term. Regardless of one's views about the economic consequences of not raising the debt limit or the definition of "default," even the debate diverts attention from the underlying problem -- Obama's refusal to show leadership on entitlements.

Consider, then, "Maneuver X." As modified to fit the current political environment, it would mean that Republicans remove all pressure. They should give Obama his debt limit increases without preconditions, and they shouldn't allow any government shutdowns.

Meanwhile, Republicans should use their majority in the House to pass bills that actually do address the nation's problems -- its economic stagnation, rising energy and health care costs, mounting debt and so on. At the same time, they can keep blocking major new expansions of government.

This two-pronged strategy would allow Republicans to isolate Obama and establish themselves as the responsible ones. If he refuses to get serious about addressing the nation's debt problem, it will be a lot harder to escape responsibility if he can't point and say, "Hey, look over there, House Republicans want to blow stuff up."

In the unlikely event that this forces Obama to get serious about tackling the national debt, great. But if he doesn't, Obama's legacy will be that of a president who came into office promising to make the "tough choices" necessary to solve our nation's problems, then proceeded to duck them. Meanwhile, Republicans will have laid out their own vision, and their candidates will have a stronger case to make in 2014 and 2016.

Though no two situations are ever exactly the same, it's worth looking back at the Democrats' strategy following their takeover of Congress in 2006. Despite their strong rhetoric, they ultimately caved to President Bush by agreeing to continue funding the Iraq War. This generated a forceful backlash among their base, but it also enabled them to continue running against Bush's handling of Iraq, rather than allowing Bush to change the subject to "Democrats don't care about our troops."

During this time, Democrats also pushed legislation that furthered their agenda -- including an expansion of the children's health care program SCHIP (which Bush vetoed) and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (which Republicans blocked in the Senate). Both bills were quickly passed and enacted once Obama became president.

If Republicans continue their predictable pattern of the last two years, they'll get predictable results -- lots of bruises with little progress on their agenda. Instead, they should shake up Washington by executing "Maneuver X."

Philip Klein (pklein@washington examiner.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @philipaklein.

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Philip Klein

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The Washington Examiner