Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Obama on Obama
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Asked whether he has “any juice” to get his agenda through Congress, President Obama paraphrased Mark Twain, saying, “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated.” Still, there’s no denying Obama is showing signs of frustration that he can’t get Congress to embrace what he considers commonsense reforms, especially on the budget and the deficit.
The president has tried to open up a whole new front by reaching out to Republican senators who are tired of being obstructionist and willing at least to have dinner with him. Whether they will work with him is another matter. Obama is having the most success, at least so far, on immigration reform. But he’s done it mostly by staying on the sidelines and letting a group of eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, work out a proposal.
The theory is that if a bipartisan bill can come together in the Senate and get 70 votes, it could pressure House Speaker John Boehner to put a compromise measure between the House and the Senate to a vote in the House. It would likely not get a majority of Republicans, but could get the needed 218 votes with a majority of Democrats.
It’s a long shot, and there are plenty hurdles along the way, but because Republicans need immigration reform to improve their standing with the Hispanic community, the legislation has a chance.
In the meantime, the narrative is once again taking hold that if Obama worked harder at building relationships in Congress, he could turn votes and put together the coalitions he needs. Obama has reacted rather sharply to the notion that he could be more like Michael Douglas in “The American President,” calling it “a liberal fantasy,” but he is putting more energy into courting Republicans and creating what he calls a “permission structure.”
The phrase has opened him to a lot of mockery for its professorial and therapeutic tone in a political world where hardball is the preferred metaphor. Washington pundits have all read about how Lyndon Johnson cornered members of Congress, cajoling and threatening them in order to get the votes for landmark pieces of legislation in civil rights and to create Medicare. Obama depends on sweet reason, making his case and thinking that lawmakers will see things his way once they have the facts as he sees them.
The movie, “Lincoln,” showed the president getting down and dirty with lawmakers trading votes when he had to and making deals that wouldn’t stand the light of day but were worth it in the context of what he was trying to achieve. Obama invited lawmakers from both political parties to join him at the White House for a private screening of “Lincoln.” No Republican reportedly accepted his invitation.
Obama is limited in what he can do beyond personal persuasion to convince lawmakers to join him. Johnson and Lincoln made ample use of what has been known as “earmarks,” where individual members can set aside funds for particular projects in their districts and states. The practice got so out of hand during the Bush era that Congress under pressure voted to ban earmarks, taking a valuable tool out of the hands of the president and congressional leaders that had been used to bring members into line.
Judging by his demeanor in the press conference, Obama has pretty much given up on this Congress. He’s not walking away from his agenda, he’s biding his time, looking toward next year’s congressional elections when the public should be really fed up, and Democrats have a chance to take back the House. It’s a long shot, but unless he can win back a Democratic majority, those reports of Obama’s demise may no longer be premature.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND