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President Barack Obama may find that he has some surprising new Republican allies next year.
With Democrats poised to lose seats and possibly control of Congress in the midterm elections, House Republicans are looking to the next year to restart their relationship with the White House. Members say they think Obama will have incentive to work with an emboldened GOP and see an opportunity to advance a shared agenda.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who introduced a broadly supported immigration reform bill with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) in 2007, said the issue has a shot in the 112th Congress if Republicans grow their House ranks. The issue remains a priority for Obama, who has faced pressure to act on it since failing to deliver on a promise to pass it during his first year in office.
“I think it’s easier for Republicans to do it,” Flake said. “I mean, we’ve seen that the Democrats didn’t even come close. There wasn’t even a real effort. Republicans have that, at least.”
He conceded that Congress is “a more toxic environment” now than it was in 2007. But the problem is that the only legislation put forward in the past year was “something the unions backed” and lacked a temporary worker plan, a must for comprehensive reform, Flake said.
“You’ve got to do it in an off-year, and it’s still a long shot,” he said. “But it’s more likely under Republicans than Democrats.”
Republicans are also predicting movement on several free-trade agreements that have stalled. Obama has said he supports moving forward on pending Bush-era trade agreements for Panama, Colombia and South Korea.
“I’m convinced that, if the president will bring those free-trade agreements to the House, to Congress, with his full support, we can pass all three of them,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade.
To date, Obama has been “saying all the right things” on trade but hasn’t acted because of the “politics” of appealing to his Democratic base, namely labor unions, the Texas Republican said.
But that will change if Republicans gain seats or take control of the House, Brady said, adding that he already has “a great working relationship” with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, a fellow Texan.
“He can do a tremendous job if the president gives him the green light,” Brady said.
A Senate GOP leadership aide said Democrats who are criticizing trade deals may be in for a surprise next Congress. “They’re running around demonizing trade right now, but the president has said he wants some of these trade agreements,” the aide said.
On another front, Education and Labor ranking member John Kline said he has already been working “really closely” with Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) and Education Secretary Arne Duncan on reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law, the standards-based education reform put into place by President George W. Bush.