President Barack Obama will be doing a lot more than ticking off priorities for the lame-duck session when he meets with House and Senate party leaders Thursday: He will be hitting the reset button on his otherwise dysfunctional relationship with Congress.
After two years of working around Republicans and corralling Democrats to pass scaled-back pieces of his agenda, Obama is responding to the Nov. 2 elections that decimated his party by vowing to try harder for bipartisanship.
On Sunday, while flying back from a trip to Asia, Obama previewed the message he will deliver in his meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), among others.
“My expectation is, when I sit down with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner this week, along with the Democratic leaders, that there are a set of things that need to get done during the lame duck and that they are not going to want to just obstruct — that they’re going to want to engage constructively. There are going to be some disagreements. There may be some need for compromise,” he told reporters on the flight.
The president noted that while Republicans are “still flush with victory” after winning more than 60 House seats and control of the House in the midterms, they are also now responsible for heeding the pleas of voters for less bickering in Washington, D.C.
“I am very confident that the American people were not issuing a mandate for gridlock,” he said.
The White House is already signaling that its first major olive branch to Republicans could be support for extending all of the Bush tax cuts set to expire this year, a stance at odds with Pelosi and other Democrats who have firmly opposed continuing the cuts for any income group beyond the middle class.
The president said recently that he is “absolutely” willing to negotiate on the issue, and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs indicated Obama is “open” to the idea of temporarily extending the cuts for couples who make more than $250,000 in exchange for Republicans uniting behind extending the middle-class cuts. White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod dodged the question altogether when asked about Obama’s support for a temporary extension in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
A Democratic leadership aide dismissed Obama’s new position on the issue as “white noise” and emphasized that any vote on extending the tax cuts won’t come for several weeks and after rounds of negotiations.