Signs of bipartisanship offer Obama narrow window to move agenda

Signs of bipartisanship offer Obama narrow window to move agenda

A sudden outburst of bipartisanship is sweeping Washington, presenting President Obama with an opportunity to move his agenda, but also a challenge to get it done quickly before this window inevitably slams shut.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama will call on the two parties to work together on immigration and gun control — normally divisive issues.

ADVERTISEMENT
But making that case will not be as hard as it used to be.

Since last month’s fiscal-cliff deal, Republicans and Democrats have apparently tired of partisan showdowns.

As a result, unusual things have started to happen on Capitol Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThe Memo: Trump pulls off a stone-cold stunner The Memo: Ending DACA a risky move for Trump Manchin pressed from both sides in reelection fight MORE (D-Nev.) forged a deal with Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (Ky.) to reform the filibuster rule; Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight Cuomo warns Dems against cutting DACA deal with Trump MORE (D-N.Y.) praised House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorEric Cantor offering advice to end ‘immigration wars’ Trump's olive branch differs from the golden eras of bipartisanship After divisive rally, Trump calls for unity MORE (R-Va.); bipartisan groups of House and Senate lawmakers are teaming up on immigration; a bipartisan House bill has been launched to stiffen penalties against straw purchasers of firearms; and House freshmen are planning a bipartisan bowling session this month.


The catalyst was the 2012 election. In his widely covered speech at the American Enterprise Institute last week, Cantor sought to broaden the GOP’s focus to education, healthcare and workforce matters, traditionally Democratic issues.

“It is my hope that I can stand before you in two years and report back that our side, as well as the president’s, found within us the ability to set differences aside, to provide relief to so many millions of Americans who simply want their life to work again,” Cantor said

Schumer, who often jousted with Cantor in the press last Congress, changed his tune, saying, “If House Republicans can adapt their agenda to match Leader Cantor’s words, this Congress could surprise people with how productive it can be.”

The season of chumminess is, of course, likely to be short-lived.



Getty Images

Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsOvernight Cybersecurity: DHS bans agencies from using Kaspersky software | Panel calls Equifax CEO to testify | Facebook pulling ads from fake news Mueller investigation focusing on social media's role in 2016 election: report Intelligence director criticizes former officials for speaking out against Trump MORE (D-Ind.), who with Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Finance to hold hearing on ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-Ore.) has introduced the only detailed bipartisan tax reform plan in Congress, said renditions of kumbaya “quickly seem to dissolve to partisanship.”

But, he added, the new bipartisanship is, while it lasts, “to the president’s advantage.”

Can Obama, who admits he failed to change Washington’s bickering ways in his first term, seize on a new chance in his second?

Lawmakers say the president’s Tuesday speech will set the tone for the next 11 months, which is all the time the parties have to pass big bills before they dig in for the next election.

To have a successful year, Obama probably needs to sign a landmark bill before the August congressional recess. In his first year, 2009, Congress swiftly passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the economic stimulus bill, but healthcare reform stumbled along until passage in 2010.

Obama’s high approval ratings are sure to fall, and bipartisanship on Capitol Hill is always fleeting. Timing is everything — and Obama’s time is now.

“It’s a very important speech. He had an opportunity to reach out in his inaugural address and he chose not to do that,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), who was one of the first Republicans last year to propose raising taxes on wealthy families to reach a compromise on the fiscal cliff.

After two years of gridlock, Cole said his colleagues are getting more sophisticated about identifying areas where they can work with Democrats without surrendering their principles.

While there is optimism that immigration and gun bills will get done, tax and entitlement reform are stuck in neutral.

Cole said Obama does not show the same zeal for deal-making that President Clinton did.

“Real bipartisanship is Bill ClintonBill ClintonGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Lawmakers, pick up the ball on health care and reform Medicaid The art of the small deal MORE and the Republican Congress actually making fiscal progress and doing welfare reform in the 1990s,” he said.

Clinton’s welfare compromise secured his 1996 reelection. Obama seems less inclined to give ground on entitlement reform after beating Mitt Romney. He has talked about changes to Social Security and Medicare, but implementing them is not high on his agenda.

Obama revealed some hints last Thursday about what to expect in his State of the Union address. Speaking to House Democrats at their annual retreat in Lansdowne, Va., he said he would call on Congress to stop $85 billion in automatic spending cuts slated for March 1 and urged Democrats to rally behind his proposals for immigration reform and gun control.

He also pledged to discuss job creation, improvements to education and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. He has hit these in past addresses to Congress.

Yet Obama made no mention of cutting Medicare and Social Security, which he considered doing in 2011 in talks with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE (R-Ohio). Instead, he left Democrats buoyed by the impression that he would fight for the sweeping liberal policies he articulated in his second inaugural address.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm about his inaugural address, about how he fully embraced his victory and embraced his agenda,” said Rep. Peter WelchPeter WelchTrump is 'open' to ObamaCare fix, lawmakers say Democrats see ObamaCare leverage in spending fights Group pushes FDA to act on soy milk labeling petition MORE (D-Vt.), who recently launched a bipartisan energy efficiency caucus.

“He said ... he meant to govern according to what he promised in the campaign. I don’t know what else Republicans expected,” Welch said. “I think you’ll see him do everything he can to find common ground as long as it doesn’t require him to give up his commitment to the middle class.”

Democrats say the GOP is in retreat.

“The president won a convincing victory and that fact is not lost on Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE, Leader Cantor and the Republicans. It’s a new reality,” Welch said.

Rep. Patrick Meehan (Pa.), a Republican co-sponsor of the bill against straw purchasing of guns, identified cybersecurity and the Violence Against Women Act as “good ones for collaboration.”

He also cited energy and transportation as two other areas where lawmakers could make a “real difference.”

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinTrump officials brief lawmakers on North Korea Blackwater founder calls for military contractors in Afghanistan Tillerson moves to eliminate special envoy posts at State Dept.: report MORE (D-Md.), who teamed with Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWeek ahead in tech: Debate over online sex trafficking bill heats up 'Hillbilly Elegy' author won't run for Senate Brown, Portman urge Trump administration to move quickly on a steel decision MORE (R-Ohio) in the past to pass pension reform, said his colleagues have grown tired of partisan stalemate.

“There’s no question about that,” he said. “We don’t like what’s happened. That’s one of the reasons there were efforts made to tone things down. Not just with rules reform but beyond the rules.”