In Washington, cross-party dealmaking hits a rough patch
With his new fiscal commission, President Obama continues his push for bipartisanship. But it may be an uphill slog. On other major issues – healthcare, bank reform, and jobs – it's been hard to find agreement.
Yet his bid for bipartisanship on budget deficits, amplifying a theme of his State of the Union address, comes as cross-party dealmaking has hit a notable rough patch.
First came the tortuous and so-far unsuccessful negotiations on healthcare reform. Bank-reform legislation stalled in the Senate. Last week, Sens. Max Baucus (D) of Montana and Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa announced the outlines of a job-creation bill, only to have Senate majority leader Harry Reid nix it hours later.
'Washington has never been this dysfunctional'
A good day for bipartisanship these days is often when one Republican agrees to work with one Democrat. (The prospects for banking reform revived when Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee said he’ll confer with Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut on the bill.)
In an election year, it’s not surprising that both parties are angling for whatever edge they can find against the rival party.
When Obama said Thursday that “everything is on the table” for his bipartisan commission to consider, Republicans saw the opportunity to score political points by saying Obama is about to back down on his pledge of no tax hikes for the middle class. Even before the commission was formally announced, they leveled that charge at the president.
Politics aside, however, budget experts say it is important not to tie the commission’s hands with preconditions.
If the fiscal commission is to be successful – and proposes ideas that actually get passed in Congress – the best hope lies in its timing.
Obama has called for the panel, chaired by Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff for President Clinton, and Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, to make recommendations by Dec. 1, after the November elections.
The key then may be what message Congress takes away from the voters.
One message revealed in recent polls is frustration with Washington. The Massachusetts Senate-seat election of Scott Brown was not a sign of voter affection for Republicans, budget watchdog David Walker told a Feb. 16 conference in Washington.
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