Obama Makes No Progress on Bipartisanship

Tuesday, 17 Jan 2012 11:27 AM

By Dan Weil

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When President Barack Obama entered office three years ago, he promised to break through the partisan squabbling in Washington, D.C. and push both parties to work together. It hasn’t happened, Politico reports.

Obama’s ties to Republican members of Congress are in tatters. Obama basically threw in the towel on bipartisanship earlier this month when he unilaterally installed a head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and appointees to the National Labor Relations Board, despite the opposition of Senate Republicans.

The president already made clear that he would frame his re-election campaign as a run against Congress, and White House aides say he has given up on passing any major legislation until the election is over.

And there is a good chance that the partisan gridlock will continue, even if Obama wins a second term. He could face a Congress with both chambers under Republican control, making it very difficult to get anything accomplished without moving hard to the right.

“I don’t see anything changing,” Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who’s now a senior director at Quinn Gillespie & Associates lobbying firm, told Politico.

“Long-term for the president, it is going to be very tough going. It is going to be very difficult to operate on Capitol Hill in the next couple of years, because the legislative process has all but broken down. And anyone who thinks that the elections are going to change everything needs to get their head examined.”

Obama pretty much admitted his failure at bipartisanship last month in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” program. “It was gonna take more than a year,” he said. “It was gonna take more than two years. It was gonna take more than one term. Probably takes more than one president.”

But that’s not the tune the president was singing when he came into office.

Republicans complain that Obama hasn’t worked enough to build relationships with them in Congress. “We have divided government. You have to work harder,” Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, told Politico. “It just means you have to work overtime to get things done.”

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney rips Obama for failing “to build relationships and trust and respect with Republicans.”

The denouement of bipartisanship began with the battle over the fiscal stimulus program in February 2009. The White House aimed for 80 votes in the Senate, but only three Republicans voted for the program, and no House Republicans voted for it.

Obama wasn’t able to draw a single Republican vote for the 2010 healthcare reform law and only six GOP votes (three in the Senate and three in the House) for the financial reform bill of that year.

After Republicans gained control of the House in the 2010 elections, Obama promised to return to his bipartisan ideals. “I neglected some things that matter to a lot to people, and rightly so -- maintaining a bipartisan tone in Washington,” he said. “I’m going to redouble my efforts to go back to some of those first principles.”

For a brief period, there was some bipartisanship. Obama agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone, including the wealthy, pleasing Republicans and upsetting Democrats. And the president hired Bill Daley as chief of staff partly because of his good relationships with Republicans in Congress.

But disputes over the budget and debt ceiling torpedoed any chances of lasting bipartisanship. Obama’s conciliation efforts collapsed.

Republicans say the president ignored them. He put little effort into forging ties with Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during his first two years in office, as he didn’t need them when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Obama has upset Republicans in Congress with some of his unilateral actions. For example, he never sought approval for the U.S. military action in Libya.

Obama shocked the GOP with his recess appointments earlier this month, but they were merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. “He already doesn’t have a relationship” with Republicans in Congress, a senior Senate GOP leadership aide told Politico. “It is like cheating on the girlfriend you never visit. She is already pissed at you.”


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