Imagine, for a moment, how difficult it would have been to land a man on the moon if half of the U.S. Congress had believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Or consider how the War in the Pacific might have progressed if half of Congress had still thought the world was flat. Or whether polio would have been eradicated if half of Congress insisted that the best cure was bleeding using leeches. Unfortunately, this was the situation the United States in January 2009, when Barack Obama assumed the presidency. The nation was trying to climb out of the deepest economic hole since the Great Depression, but the Republican Party had about as scientific an approach to the economy as medieval alchemists did to the periodic table.
Sometimes, mistaken ideas can be harmless or even humorous. But in a crisis, they can be downright dangerous. By the time Obama took office, Lehman Brothers had failed, and the Treasury was already trying to prop up banks and other financial institutions to prevent a complete collapse of the economy. In addition, the nation had undergone a tremendous fiscal transformation. Back in 2000, the United States had expected to rack up more than $4 trillion in budgetary surpluses over the coming eight years, but the Bush administration enacted tax cuts that brought the tax burden for upper-income Americans down to the lowest levels since the 1940s. These cuts, combined with two expensive wars and a short recession, sent the nation into deep deficits. The new president faced an enormous task to revive the economy — one that he could not complete without Congress’s help. Together, they would have to protect Americans from a prolonged economic slump while attempting to chart a course toward a more fiscally responsible future.
Not everyone in Congress was in a mood to cooperate. Stung by their electoral defeats and facing Democratic domination of both houses, the Republicans did everything they could to slow the new president’s agenda, from filibusters and procedural votes to delayed appointments and partisan bickering. Clearly, the election campaigns of 2010 and 2012 had already begun, and Republicans were determined to stop the new president from keeping his promises.