Obama Says He’s an ‘Eternal Optimist’ on Bipartisanship

Posted February 9, 2009 at 9:00pm

President Barack Obama on Monday night said he will continue his dialogue with the GOP — though almost no Republicans have chosen to support his stimulus bill — presenting his outreach campaign as a long-term project designed to pay bipartisan dividends down the road. “I’m the eternal optimist,” Obama said during a nearly hourlong prime time news conference in the East Room of the White House. “I think that over time people will respond to civility and rational argument.” Seeking to justify his own increasingly partisan rhetoric on the stimulus and his decision to move ahead without much GOP support, Obama argued that with the economy spiraling downward his priority has to be getting the legislation passed — bipartisanship will have to come later. But implicit in Obama’s argument was that it is the GOP, not he, who is to blame for the partisan divide that has so far characterized the debate over Obama’s first significant initiative. Obama said it would “take some time” to “break down bad habits” that have accumulated in Washington — presumably not his bad habits. He suggested that some of the opposition to his plan was politically motivated, arguing that Republicans who presided over a “doubling of the national debt” might be disingenuous in suggesting there is too much spending in the bill. “I’m not sure they have a lot of credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility,” Obama said. He asserted that Republicans were brought in early in the process and initially backed tax cuts that remain in the measure. Obama mused that he perhaps should have offered the bill without tax cuts “and then let them take credit for them,” saying it may be “one lesson” learned from his so far failed effort to get a bipartisan bill. Republicans object that a portion of the tax cuts are given to those who do not pay federal income taxes, and they argue that the legislation has become a vehicle for long-cherished Democratic initiatives. Obama did not completely deny this, suggesting he was perplexed that anyone could find initiatives such as weatherizing federal buildings objectionable. But the president added that he is still willing to talk to Republicans about some measures in the legislation — though he demanded that it get done this week. And he indicated that his ongoing outreach campaign could result in greater bipartisanship as Republicans and Democrats realize they must compromise on knotty issues such as reforming entitlements. He sought to show flexibility in some areas, indicating a willingness to consider conservative proposals for reforming education. “Bad teachers need to be fired,” he said. Obama said he regretted having to put so much money into the stimulus, saying that spending $800 billion “wasn’t how I envisioned my presidency beginning.” He said he is not yet sure whether he will have to add funds to the $350 billion that is yet to be spent on boosting the financial system, saying he wants to see how reforms included with the new spending work first. The plan for doling out the second tranche of the Troubled Assets Relief Program money will be announced by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Tuesday. Obama promised to take a look at proposals that might lead to probes of conduct by Bush administration officials. But he was clear that he is not inclined to pursue such investigations. “My general orientation is to say, ‘Let’s get it right moving forward,’” he said.