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Obama Must Hope He Doesn’t Suffer Jim Zorn’s Fate

Last year was a disappointing one for the Washington Redskins, and especially for the team’s recently fired head coach, Jim Zorn. The team notched few meaningful victories, giving Washingtonians little to cheer about. In fact, the Redskins’ season was a lot like last year for President Barack Obama and Congress: What began as a year with strong promise ended with little accomplished.Zorn’s troubles have been well-documented as the Redskins were dismal under his leadership. Similarly, a great deal of the blame for the government’s largely wasted year belongs with Obama. The president’s lack of precise leadership in setting out a first-year legislative agenda, play-calling, if you will, did more to muddle Congress than anything Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did or did not do.By raw output of bills, Congress performed respectably in 2009, but there are a lot of post offices to be named and nonbinding statements to be ratified, so by itself this is a useless number, similar to analyzing player statistics on a last-place football team. The better indicator is substantive legislation, and even a cursory glance at the 2009 ledger reveals a clear lack of key bills that were signed into law last year:The Lilly Ledbetter Act; the $800 billion stimulus; the hate crimes bill; the Cash for Clunkers program; the bank bailout; and a toothless mortgage bill.These bills expose a compelling indictment of an unproductive Congress, not unlike Zorn’s victories over poor teams. Only the stimulus plan and the bank bailout can be fairly called major initiatives, with the latter extremely unpopular and in retrospect, arguably unnecessary.The inability of Congress to clear larger initiatives, including those on Democratic wish lists, can be traced both to a lack of majority support for passage in Congress for some of these bills and the absence of consistent, driving leadership from the White House.The cap-and-trade bill is perhaps the best example of this. Over the summer, the House narrowly passed environmental legislation pleasing to the Democrats’ base and strongly desired by Pelosi and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).Obama should have prevented the House from taking up cap-and-trade. It never had a chance of passing the Senate, and thus needlessly exposed vulnerable Members to a tough vote. A misreading of the president’s then-high poll numbers likely led the White House to push a poor strategy. Cap-and-trade bogged down Congress, holding up any movement on Obama’s proclaimed No. 1 priority: health care.The House’s passage of the bill may have been momentarily satisfying, but it was only symbolic and it needlessly inflamed partisan passions and made Members less likely to commit their hearts toward the draining surgery of another long legislative fight before 2010.

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