Today’s the big day in Washington DC, when two opposing forces collide in an attempt to set the table for the next two years, and it doesn’t involve the Redskins or the Eagles. Instead, Barack Obama makes good on his “Slurpee Summit” offer to Republican leaders Rep. John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell at the White House, where the leaders of both parties will attempt to find some common areas of interest in the next session of Congress. As CBS notes, those areas look narrow at best:
Here’s where the White House may be a little shy today — while the Republicans are attacking their entire agenda as a “liberal wish list,” the White House would defend each action as tackling a crisis – out of control health care spending, an outdated energy policy overly dependent on foreign oil and spending to jumpstart the economy. They’d also argue that there has been private sector job growth for a long stretch now, though they’d also admit it’s not been enough.
The administration may also be shy to argue policy with their foes who don’t seem to agree with the White House’s identification of a crisis.
This debate is what Washington will be consumed with, or by, for the next two years. But today’s meeting will focus on two immediate issues, the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year, and ratification of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. This is what the White House wants to focus on – and at least on the latter issue, they’d like to see partisanship put aside for what they say is a much needed treaty. They fear that if the treaty doesn’t get passed in the current Senate, the next Congress won’t get around to it until it is too late, and the entire thing could be shelved.
On tax cuts, the Republicans are adamant that all the tax cuts be extended, saying the American people voted them into power to do so. The White House wants to extend only the middle class tax cuts, but may be open to compromise on the upper incomes for a limited period of time. According to many polls, most Americans want to see only the middle class tax cuts be extended.
The Republicans didn’t win this last election on the notion of raising taxes, which is what will actually happen if the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 aren’t fully extended, nor on the promise to ratify a new START treaty. In fact, recent developments on North Korea may provide the GOP with evidence that Obama has his priorities out of order on foreign policy. The threat to the US doesn’t come from Moscow, but from Pyongyang and Tehran. If the START treaty doesn’t address either — and there’s no indication of serious quid pro quo from the Russians on either of the two threats in exchange for diplomatic cover on nuclear reduction — then START can wait until more pressing matters are addressed. In fact, delaying START might make a good bargaining chip for Russian pressure before ratification.
Boehner and McConnell make their own priorities clear in a Washington Post column today, which cast bipartisanship in terms of the midterm mandate for limited government and debt reduction:
Despite what some Democrats in Congress have suggested, voters did not signal they wanted more cooperation on the Democrats’ big-government policies that most Americans oppose. On the contrary, they want both parties to work together on policies that will help create the conditions for private-sector job growth. They want us to stop the spending binge, cut the deficit and send a clear message on taxes and regulations so small businesses can start hiring again.
Republicans got the message voters have been delivering for more than a year. That’s why we made a pledge to America to cut spending, rein in government, and permanently extend the current tax rates so small-business owners won’t get hit with a massive tax hike at the end of December. That’s what Americans want. And that’s the message Republicans will bring to the meeting today. In other words, you’ll have a voice at that table.
We can work together and accomplish these things, but the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress first will have to prioritize. It’s time to choose struggling middle-class families and small businesses over the demands of the liberal base. It’s time to get serious. …
Despite the president’s comments about focusing on job creation, Democrats in Congress are working feverishly to move legislation on everything except stopping the tax hikes and lowering spending. Their focus for the brief post-election “lame duck” session is on controversial items such as immigration, a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” more spending and environmental regulations. Indeed, their actual legislative plan for the rest of the lame-duck session is to focus on anything but jobs.
The essay includes nothing about a federal-pay freeze, Obama’s opening gambit in an apparent attempt to claim the mantle of centrism. Instead, Boehner and McConnell argue that Obama needs to repudiate the current agenda of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid entirely and spend the lame-duck session extending the current tax rates and cutting the budget. Obama will be loathe to forgo the chance at passing some progressive wish-list items in his final days of single-party control, which is why Boehner and McConnell lay this down as a marker. If Obama is serious about addressing jobs, the economy, and bipartisan cooperation, he has to put an end to lame-duck shenanigans and focus on those priorities.
Will he do so? That’s the $64,000 question. I’d guess that Obama won’t anger his base any further with concessions on these points, no matter how much good it would do him politically. That will put an end to bipartisanship in its cradle, which will leave only the blame to be cast later.
Or perhaps I’m just too cynical. What do you think? Take the poll: