Will Obama’s lame-duck dealmaking survive in the new year?
Even with the deep partisan divide, Obama and Congress worked together in the lame-duck session. But pressure on the president from the left and right will grow in the new year.
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“That convinced people that divided government could work,” says Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank in Washington. “It served everybody’s interests. Republicans kept their congressional majority, and Clinton swept reelection.”Skip to next paragraph
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Fast forward to today: “Boehner and other Republicans worked very hard to get their majority back,” says Mr. Kessler. “Their No. 1 concern is keeping the Republican majority, not electing a Republican president.”
That flies in the face of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s post-midterm election statement that his top goal is to prevent Obama from winning a second term. Senator McConnell doesn’t have a majority to protect, so perhaps he more than Boehner can afford to look baldly partisan. Besides, his caucus already has excellent election prospects in 2012, with many more Democratic senators up for reelection than Republican.
Having won multiple bipartisan victories during the lame-duck session, Obama clearly wants more of the same in the new Congress. In his pre-Christmas press conference, the president called the lame-duck Congress a “season of progress” that reflected the message voters sent in the November midterms.
That message, he said, was: “It’s time to find common ground on challenges facing our country. That’s a message that I will take to heart in the new year, and I hope my Democratic and Republican friends will do the same.”
Obama already appears to have been rewarded by the public for reaching across the aisle. Even if most Americans weren’t happy that the Bush-era tax cuts were extended for the wealthiest taxpayers, they liked the bipartisan dealmaking.
A Gallup poll released Dec. 23 showed Obama’s approval rating rose nine points in the previous two weeks among centrist Republicans and independents who lean Republican, hitting 29 percent.
At the same time, analysts warn, Obama has to be careful about alienating his progressive Democratic base.
“The outlook he’s taken is he doesn’t [have to worry about liberals], and what’s more important is moderate voters, and the left will come out for him when they see the choice in 2012,” says Mr. Zelizer of Princeton. “But that’s a dangerous posture to take. He needs the Democrats in Congress to protect health-care reform and at least try to move the legislation he gives them. He needs Democrats to make the case for why he should be reelected.”