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Is Obama's Charm Offensive Over?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Alexander, left, has said Obama’s recent comments have threatened to wipe out the gains he made with Republicans earlier this year. McConnell pointed out that Obama’s student loan proposal is closer to the plan of Senate Republicans than to that of Democrats.

Indeed, Senate Democrats have threatened to use the “nuclear option” to change the chamber’s rules with a simple majority vote if GOP senators don’t allow swift confirmation of several Obama judicial and agency nominees. And on Tuesday, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seemed in no mood to work out a deal on blocking the scheduled increase in student loan interest rates.

“We have no reason to work out a compromise,” Reid told reporters, saying that the Senate would likely vote Thursday on a Democratic proposal that would pay for the lower student loan rates by stopping some tax preferences. “We’ve got a few tax loopholes we think should be closed to pay for ... maintaining the interest rates the way they are right now.”

Reid made that statement knowing that GOP senators would oppose the tax offsets, which include repealing a tax provision that benefits the oil industry.

Senate Republicans aren’t taking well to the return of the campaign-style approach from Senate Democrats and the White House.

“There’s a Senate Democrat plan, but everyone knows it’s just a political bill — a short-term fix that would only apply to less than half of students who plan to take out new loans, and it would impose permanent tax hikes,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said hours earlier on the Senate floor. “I mean, having a true policy debate is one thing. But provoking a partisan squabble seemingly for its own sake — it’s just ridiculous.”

On student loans, Republicans contend that their approach is closer to Obama’s than the one suggested by Senate Democrats.

“There’s no reason the president should be holding campaign-style events to bash Republicans for supposedly opposing him on student loans, when we’re in agreement on the need for a permanent reform; when the plan we’ve put forward is actually pretty similar to his own,” McConnell said. “Yet, somehow, that’s just what we saw Friday at the White House.”

From the GOP standpoint, Obama was back at it again Tuesday.

“Time and again, congressional Republicans cynically used Senate rules and procedures to delay and even block qualified nominees from coming to a full vote,” the president complained as he announced three picks to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, commonly referred to as the nation’s second-highest court.

“These individuals that I nominate are qualified. When they were given an up-or-down vote in the Senate, when they were finally given an up-or-down vote in the Senate, every one of them was confirmed. So this is not about principled opposition,” Obama said. “This is about political obstruction.”

Reid and McConnell also sparred about the prospects for rules changes, with McConnell saying that he would come to the floor each day to ask if Reid would commit to not using a nuclear option on nominations.

“He can come to the floor and talk 15 times a day — actions speak louder than words. It’s up to them, not up to me,” Reid said when asked to respond to McConnell’s request.

But McConnell said Reid earlier this year had promised not to change the rules with a simple majority.

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