Tales from the Trail

Washington grow up? Don’t hold your breath

February 15, 2011

President Barack Obama said he wants a mature discussion between politicians of all stripes as the White House and members of Congress try to make tough decisions on spending and taxes necessary to run the government and deal with a ballooning budget deficit.obama1

“My hope is that what’s different this time is, is we have an adult conversation where everybody says here’s what’s important and here’s how we’re going to pay for it,” Obama told a news conference Tuesday.

Don’t hold your breath.

Obama campaigned for the presidency in 2008 with a pledge to seek common ground between Democrats and Republicans, but his time in office has been marked by bitter fighting and few issues garnering bipartisan support.

Obama’s healthcare overhaul — dismissed as ”Obamacare” by Republicans — passed with no Republican votes. His economic stimulus plan had only minimal backing from the rival party. The Democratic president released his latest budget proposal Monday, but Congress never passed last year’s spending bills and some Republicans have vowed to shut down the government if Obama does not support their plans to cut spending.

Political discourse during Obama’s presidency has also been marked by name-calling such as Obama’s references to “Wall Street fat cats” during his fight to pass financial regulatory reform, and precedent-breaking incidents such as a Republican congressman shouting, “You lie!” at Obama as he addressed a joint session of Congress.

Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass several pieces of legislation in December during the “lame-duck” session of Congress that followed the Republicans’ sweeping victory in legislative elections in November.

There also was a brief effort at “civility” in Washington after Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic congresswoman, was shot in the head and six others, including a federal judge, were killed in January. But the most notable outcome of that effort was Democrats and Republicans sitting together during Obama’s annual State of the Union address on Jan. 25.

Obama acknowledged that the knives will be out, but insisted that, given the seriousness of the country’s fiscal problems, the two parties will be willing to work together.

“I expect that all sides will have to do a little bit of posturing on television and speak to their constituencies, and rally the troops and so forth,” he said. “But ultimately, what we need is a reasonable, responsible, and initially, probably, somewhat quiet and toned-down conversation about … where can we compromise and get something done.”

But name-calling and sloganeering from both sides are as common as ever.

Before Obama met the press, a first-term Republican congressman, Steve Womack, had prepared an amendment to a spending bill that would have denied federal funds for Obama’s use of a teleprompter.  Republicans mock Obama, considered a gifted orator, as being over-reliant on the teleprompter when he speaks.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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