The fractious 111th Congress ended on a surprisingly productive note on Wednesday with the approval of a medical-aid bill for 9/11 rescue workers. The vote culminated what was perhaps "the most productive of the lame-duck Congressional sessions ever," as President Obama and Republicans struck deals on major legislation including the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the extension of Bush-era tax cuts, and the ratification of the New START nuclear treaty with Russia. Is this the beginning of a new era of bipartisanship, or will gridlock resume when Obama squares off in 2011 with a new, more heavily Republican Congress?
Obama is not ready to make real compromises: The lame-duck session was only successful, says John Hinderaker in Power Line, because the military's backing helped him win over enough Republicans to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," and to ratify the nuclear treaty. But the Pentagon can't help Obama pass the bulk of his liberal agenda. Obama's cheerleaders in the media insist he's back and ready for bipartisanship, but until he shows he's ready to give a little on his "leftist ideas and impulses," all signs point to gridlock.
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Obama is laying the groundwork: At a press conference on Wednesday, the president "did more than take a victory lap," say Michael Falcone and Amy Walter at ABC News. "He set the tone — and potentially set a trap — for the next legislative session." By alluding to "unfinished business," he implied that Republicans should keep cooperating with him — and they may well listen, since "the party that looks like they're holding things up for political gain is the party that will suffer at the polls."
"The Note: Obama setting a tone, setting a trap?"
The new Congress may not want to cooperate: His recent achievements are impressive, but as "Obama tacks back to the center, he finds himself on lonely ground," says Jay Newton-Small at Time. The problem is that "virtually all of the moderates from both sides of the aisle have been wiped out" in recent elections, and new Tea Party lawmakers will "surely make negotiations more challenging when their representatives are seated in January." And yet, "whether campaigning or in the lame-duck, Obama has proven his capacity to surprise when expectations are lowest."
Bipartisanship is the wave of the future: Even though the GOP will be in charge of the House come January, "President Obama and newly empowered Republicans may actually find more to talk about in the next Congress than they did in the last," says Matt Bai in The New York Times. After the 2008 election, it made sense politically for a diminished GOP to reflexively block Obama's agenda. But now, "Republicans in the House will share some accountability for governing the country, rather than simply standing in opposition."
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