Obama: Is the honeymoon already over?

Disagreement over the stimulus package threatens to mar the new era of bipartisanship President Obama hoped to bring to Washington.

So much for Barack Obama’s Era of Good Feelings, said David Broder in The Washington Post. For a while, it looked as if our new president was delivering on his campaign pledge to “break the partisan gridlock in Washington.” He wooed Republicans with massive tax cuts and a personal charm offensive. He’s just nominated U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire as commerce secretary, the third Republican to grace his Cabinet. But when not a single GOP congressman voted for Obama’s economic stimulus package last week, “the first important roll call of his presidency looked as bitterly partisan as any of the Bush years.” After the bill passed the House anyway, said Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune, Republicans seemed delighted—indeed, giddy—“that they had been able to stay together as they went down swinging.”

That’s because they hadn’t really lost, said Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard. Even though they’re in the distinct minority, conservative congressmen managed to persuade a public desperate for an economic miracle that the stimulus bill was “too big, too porky, and hardly stimulative at all.” Now the Senate may have to dump some of the more egregious Democratic programs, such as $400 million to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections and $75 million to help people stop smoking. The GOP also demonstrated that the Democrats’ claims of a “new era of bipartisanship” are hogwash, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her liberal colleagues ignored Republicans as they assembled this $820 billion monstrosity, limiting tax cuts that would actually inject money into the economy, and larded the legislation with special-interest goodies for Democratic constituencies. “Genuine bipartisanship means compromises on policy, not photo ops and handshakes.”

It also means doing more than trying to “gum up the works,” said Frank Rich in The New York Times. “America is in an all-hands-on-deck emergency”: We’ve lost nearly 2 million jobs in the past four months, banks are hemorrhaging money, and terrified consumers are stocking up on canned soup. Yet the GOP “has zero leaders and zero ideas” on the economy, suggesting only that Obama continue Bush policies of cutting taxes for the rich and corporations. It’s a waste of time for Obama to negotiate with these guys, said E.J. Dionne in The New Republic, since they see even school aid and health-care programs for the poor as a waste of money. “Just how high a price is Obama willing to pay for a handful of Republican votes?”

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It’s a moot point, said David Horsey in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In the culture wars of recent decades, Democrats and Republicans have become less demographically diverse and “more ideologically pure.” That leaves Obama trying to woo “right-wing firebrands” from very conservative, Southern districts. It’s not going to happen.

Perhaps not, said Alec MacGillis and Paul Kane in The Washington Post, but for Obama, bipartisanship means more than winning the other party’s votes. Aides say he’s just as interested in “elevating the debate—replacing cynical gamesmanship and immature name-calling with intellectually honest arguments and respect for the other side’s motives.” Though Obama didn’t change a single vote, many Republicans said they appreciated that the president came to Capitol Hill to explain his thinking and exchange views, and the White House says the final version of the stimulus may indeed incorporate Republican objections and suggestions. That kind of patient outreach may “yet pay dividends.”

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