Obama should start using the President's Room in the Capitol

On the second floor of the Capitol — in the North Wing, steps from the Senate chamber — is the most ornate room within an already grand edifice. George Washington had suggested this President’s Room, where he and the Senate could conduct their joint business, but it was not built until the 1850s. Even then, the Italianate salon, with its frescoed ceiling and richly colored tiled floor, was seldom used beyond the third day of March every other year, when Congressional sessions ended and the president arrived to sign 11th-hour legislation. Only during Wilson’s tenure has the President’s Room served the purpose for which it was designed. He frequently worked there three times a week, often with the door open.

Almost every visit Wilson made to the Capitol proved productive. (As president, he appeared before joint sessions of Congress more than two dozen times.) During Wilson’s first term, when the president was blessed with majorities in both the House and the Senate, the policies of the New Freedom led to the creation of the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the eight-hour workday, child labor laws and workers’ compensation. Wilson was also able to appoint the first Jew to the Supreme Court, Louis D. Brandeis…

Today, President Obama and Congress agree that the national debt poses lethal threats to future generations, and so they should declare war on that enemy and adjourn politics, at least until it has been subdued. The two sides should convene in the President’s Room, at the table beneath the frescoes named “Legislation” and “Executive Authority,” each prepared to leave something on it. And then they should return the next day, and maybe the day after that. Perhaps the senior senator from Kentucky could offer a bottle of his state’s smoothest bourbon, and the president could provide the branch water. All sides should remember Wilson and the single factor that determines the country’s glorious successes or crushing failures: cooperation.

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