Obama’s second term: Can he work with Congress? (+video)
Approval ratings for Congress may have plummeted, but President Obama will find he’s going to need to work with the lawmakers he spent much of his reelection campaign railing against.
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And the president could perhaps turn down the bellicosity on the Hill by working with some of his loudest critics (though risking the ire of environmentalists in his political base) in one area that the deeply-red right and the president could agree: energy policy.Skip to next paragraph
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“We were encouraged by President Obama’s 2012 campaign comments supporting an all-of-the-above agenda on energy, and his statements outlining support for oil and natural gas,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s powerful trade association, in his annual State of American Energy address in Washington earlier this month.
But Republicans rage about a disconnect between what the president and members of his administration say they favor and what Republicans say is foot-dragging in building the Keystone XL pipeline, exporting natural gas, or freeing up more offshore areas for energy exploration. If the president were to get behind any of these initiatives he’d likely have plenty of GOP support – but that remains a large “if.”
“I think that [Obama’s] credibility with environmentalists would certainly be damaged” by getting on board with many energy priorities, says Baker, “and since he doesn’t have to run again, it would seem to me sort a coin toss if he would alienate a Democratic constituency to ingratiate himself with some people who probably wouldn’t vote for him under any circumstances.”
And then there’s always the Democrats. In assessing the president’s relationship with Congress, it’s worth remembering that he’s gotten great compliance among his Democratic allies to date.
In the House, particularly, Democrats have been a rock-solid voting bloc capable of providing the lion’s share of votes to pass key legislation from a debt ceiling increase, the fiscal-cliff solving tax deal, or aid for areas affected by hurricane Sandy.
When the president has to overcome congressional Republicans more than compromise with them (as on his recent slate of gun violence prevention measures), Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel recently told reporters that the president has a great way to do this, too – pass bills in the Democrat-led Senate and then use the power of the bully pulpit to turn public pressure on the House GOP.
As Mr. Emanuel put it: “Put the burner up.”
How much the GOP will respond – or need to respond – to such pressure is an open question. House Republicans have signaled that they are thinking through how to thrive in divided government, too. Numerous press reports from the GOP’s annual policy gathering this week suggest that the often-rambunctious House GOP is considering a strategic shift toward “making progress” toward Republican aims, as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin put it, instead of holding out for their maximum demands.
On Friday, for example, the GOP offered to back down from its previously steadfast demand for $1 in budget cuts for every $1 increase in the federal debt ceiling for a much less strident demand: that both sides of Capitol Hill be required to pass a budget or lawmakers would go without pay.
Whatever the balance of pressure and compromise, the president won’t be able to avoid Congress in Term 2. After all, his first date after his inaugural address is a lunch, where else, but on Capitol Hill.