Many Washington experts predicted nothing but increased partisanship and legislative gridlock in the wake of big GOP gains in the November midterm elections, said Mr. Obama. Instead, the lame-duck congressional session has produced a list of major accomplishments, including a tax-cut and unemployment-benefits compromise, a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays serving openly in the military, and Senate ratification of a START nuclear-arms treaty with Russia.
Why so much sudden legislative activity? It was all due to members of both parties working together to find common ground on these issues, said Obama.
“The lesson I think here is that it’s possible for Democrats and Republicans to have principled disagreements but to ultimately find common ground to move the country forward,” he said.
Debates on things such as whether tax cuts for the wealthy should be extended will continue into 2011, noted the president, but the overall package was “the right one to ensure that this economy has the best chance to grow and create jobs.”
Why is Obama emphasizing the bipartisan aspect of recent votes? After all, it is not as if he and the GOP are suddenly best friends forever. Many Republicans are not happy about the recent string of Democratic legislative victories. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina went so far as to grumble that the GOP has had its “lunch eaten” by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.
But in emphasizing that he and the GOP have come together on some issues, Obama gets to present himself as having responded to a message sent by voters in the midterms. The US electorate said they wanted Washington to find common ground, said the president.
“That’s a message I will take to heart in the new year,” he said.
In addition, he gets to remind voters that he’s still relevant – that the power that runs America still passes through the Oval Office. And he gets to define the center of US politics on his own terms.
The president did say he had experienced some policy disappointments in recent weeks – particularly the failure of Congress to pass an immigration reform provision. He said he was not happy that his administration had found a way to properly close the Guantánamo Bay detention center for terrorism suspects, which he termed Al Qaeda’s “No. 1 recruitment tool.”
“I’m also disappointed that we weren’t able to come together around a budget to fund our government for the long term,” said Obama.
That will be a big issue in the next Congress, he noted, as Republicans and Democrats look for ways to trim federal spending and put the US budget on a more sustainable long-term path.