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.

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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 Mason ReidStrange bedfellows oppose the filibuster No, it is not racist to question birthright citizenship McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (D-Nev.) forged a deal with Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded McGrath releases ad blasting McConnell with coal miners in Kentucky: 'Which side are you on?' Prediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast MORE (Ky.) to reform the filibuster rule; Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (D-N.Y.) praised House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington 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.



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Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray Coats10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall 11 Essential reads you missed this week Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (D-Ind.), who with Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPrediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast Wyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google 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 ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonNew data challenges Trump's economic narrative The ideological divide on vaping has a clear winner: Smokers Prince Andrew says he didn't 'witness or suspect' criminal behavior from Epstein 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 BoehnerScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support Lobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom 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 Francis WelchOvernight Health Care: Oversight chair plans to call drug executives to testify on costs | Biden airs anti-'Medicare for All' video | House panel claims Juul deliberately targeted kids Mueller agrees investigation did not 'fail to turn up evidence of conspiracy' Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress 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 BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support Lobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom 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 CardinAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction Financial aid fraud is wrong — but overcorrection could hurt more students Democrats denounce Trump's attack on Cummings: 'These are not the words of a patriot' MORE (D-Md.), who teamed with Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Shaken Portman urges support for 'red flag' laws after Ohio shooting 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.”