October 17, 2013

Analysis: Shutdown fight gives Obama a chance to reboot

Against a divided foe, and with Democrats united, the president might now have an opportunity to lead in ways he hasn’t been able to for much of his time in the Oval Office.

By Dan Balz
The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

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President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday.

The Associated Press

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That’s where things stood a few weeks ago, before House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, yielded to the demands of his tea party members and brought about the shutdown and brinkmanship over the debt ceiling.

The speaker’s efforts expired with one last legislative gasp Tuesday when he and other House leaders could not command a majority of their own members and were forced to abandon a planned floor vote on the measure. It was left to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to strike the deal that reopened the government.

Obama will continue to face unyielding opposition from the tea party Republicans in the House and the Senate. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, made that clear Wednesday when he denounced the Senate compromise and praised those in the House whose opposition to the health-care law triggered the crisis.

The key now is whether the president has a strategy to govern around them by winning support from what he called the responsible Republicans.

On Thursday, Obama called on Congress to focus on three priorities. But he offered few specifics about what he will ask and what he will give. Nor is it clear whether he has a strategy to win the support of some Republicans.

The first priority he talked about was the economy and the budget. Budget negotiations will resume with the goal of reaching an agreement by mid-December, lest the country face a repeat of what just happened.

Obama wants to replace the across-the-board spending reductions that have cut indiscriminately with more sensible spending priorities. He also says he is willing to negotiate over entitlements programs. He wants any agreement to include more revenue, although Republicans say he got his revenue package at the end of 2012. Republicans who opposed the shutdown (but quietly went along with it) are skeptical that Obama is truly willing to make concessions to get a satisfactory deal.

The two other legislative priorities the president cited were immigration reform and passage of the farm bill. No one can say what the prospects are for passage of an immigration bill. Much of that still depends on how House GOP leaders decide whether it is in the party’s long-term interest to pass it. Obama did not mention what should be his other major priority, the health-care law, whose implementation has gotten off to a stumbling start, to put it mildly.

All of that is on the table. Meanwhile, there is a question of how engaged Obama will be in the grinding work of trying to produce compromise with potentially willing Republicans.

Leon Panetta, who served in Obama’s Cabinet, in Bill Clinton’s White House and as a member of the House before that, told a breakfast held by the Wall Street Journal that past failures are no reason for the White House to disengage. “In this town, you’ve got to stay with it and stay at it,” he said.

It’s possible that the divisions in the Republican Party and the determination of its tea party wing to continue its fight against the health-care law and the president’s agenda will doom any prospects for more effective governance for the duration of Obama’s term. But the shutdown battle has given the president a fresh opportunity to show what he is prepared to do to produce the kind of bipartisanship he long has promised.

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