Can it be? Is there hope? Might we see cooperation between the parties on fiscal and other matters after November?
What are we to make of the signals from Republicans in recent days that, presuming they retake control of the House (if not also the Senate), they want to work with President Obama rather than simply undo his accomplishments of the last two years and obstruct whatever new proposals he may offer?
“A number of House Republicans, including some who are likely to be in the leadership, are pushing a post-election strategy aimed at securing concrete legislation, with the goal of showing they can translate general principles into specific action,” the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week. “Among the ideas is to bring a series of bills to the floor, as often as once a week, designed to cut spending in some way. Longer term, GOP leaders say they recognize they may have to compromise with Democrats in tackling broader problems.”
Then this morning, the Journal relayed the highlights of its interview with Rep. Darrell Issa, an alleged “pit bull-in-waiting who will lunge for the Democrats’ jugular” after November. “I can continue to be the annoyer in chief if the White House doesn't want to work with us,” said Issa, who will chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee if Republicans retake the House. “But if they do, we have a real opportunity to get some things done."
OK, cynics – particularly those of you who have questioned my recent posts (here and here) that suggested possible pathways to post-election cooperation – let me provide all of the appropriate caveats:
• Yes, the two sides have profoundly different views on the size and scope of government, and that conflict may play out most prominently on the basic issue of taxes and spending on which cooperation is most needed.
• Yes, per the GOP’s vow (quoted above) to bring a series of spending-cut bills to the House floor early on, that will set up an early clash on that very issue.
• Yes, Republicans want to de-fund or otherwise block Obama’s health reform law, which will surely poison the well for cooperation on anything else.
• Yes, a Republican-controlled House will hold hearings and launch investigations of the Administration, further poisoning the well.
• Yes, finally, the signals cited above may be designed, in part or even wholly, to preemptively blame Obama for the post-election failure of the two sides to come together.
But here’s a thought, to be followed a few paragraphs down by a suggestion.
A funny thing happens to candidates when they win elections. They find themselves in office, with power to do things. “Doing” means legislating, and legislating means writing bills and gathering the votes to pass them and accounting for the Administration’s views in order to garner the President’s signature.
The “doing” part of Congress tends to moderate even the most hardened of revolutionaries. That explains why someone like Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who came to Washington so many years ago breathing conservative fire, could cooperate with Ted Kennedy on a host of issues over the years and why, more recently, Newt Gingrich could find “common ground” with Bill Clinton on welfare reform and lower-profile issues, including fiscal issues. (Yes, I know, today’s Republicans may be more conservative than the GOP “revolutionaries” of yore, but the temptations of post-election “doing” can tame even the fiercest of campaign beasts.)
If Republicans retake the House, Obama surely will have a high-profile sit-down in the Oval Office with the incoming Speaker, John Boehner, soon after the election. He’ll invite reporters in before the meeting, and Obama and Boehner will each make happy talk about cooperating where they can.
But the White House should not stop there. The President and his top aides should reach out quietly to the would-be “doers” – Issa and others quoted in recent stories – soon after the votes are counted. While acknowledging the obvious ideological splits between them, they should explore areas of possible cooperation.
Who knows? Cooperation not only may prove fruitful. If we’re lucky, it may prove infectious.
Lawrence J. Haas is former Communications Director to Vice President Gore and, before that, to the White House Office of Management and Budget. He's now a public affairs consultant who writes widely about foreign and domestic affairs, including fiscal policy.
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