Analysis: Can Obama bridge partisan divide?

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – Can President Barack Obama become a political bridge-builder? That’s the role he is facing when an expected surge of new Republicans comes to Washington after next week’s congressional elections.

Obama’s Democrats and his opponents face a host of divisive issues that will test their ability to work together and could lead to crippling gridlock.

Battles are expected over budgets, taxes and deficits, and Obama will try to guard his signature policy victories — the overhaul of healthcare and financial regulation — from being shredded by Republicans who want to limit government’s role.

And Republicans are likely to try to confound any extensive energy legislation, forcing Obama to scale back his ambitions for carbon emission cuts to address climate change. The minority party is also in no mood for a grand compromise with Democrats on rewriting immigration laws.

The November 2 election will decide what kind of hand Obama will have for the next two years as he struggles to boost the U.S. economy, cut unemployment — the rate is currently 9.6 percent — and regain the confidence of Americans.

Obama told National Journal magazine in an interview last week that Democrats would need to show an “appropriate sense of humility about what we can accomplish” and he vowed to “spend more time building consensus.”

Republicans are expected to win the House of Representatives and narrow the Democrats’ majority in the Senate, giving them powerful new clout to push conservative causes such as spending cuts and rein in Obama.

“I think what you’ll have is gridlock for a while then I think you’ll have some hard-won compromise,” said Republican strategist John Feehery. “The number one thing that is going to happen is the Obama agenda is going to stop in its tracks.”


While not a large issue in Congress, Obama has talked of the possibility of bipartisan cooperation on education. He will also pressure Republicans to join in a compromise on reducing the $1.29 trillion deficit.

A bipartisan deficit commission is to issue its recommendations in December, and its conclusions may concern a significant amount of Americans — raising taxes, cutting spending or a painful mixture of both.

“I think the President is going to try to work with the other side, but I think the new people coming are not going to be in a cooperative mood,” Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf said.

Obama had voiced a desire for bipartisanship while a presidential candidate in 2008. He will now see what it is like to try to bridge that divide if the election goes against him.

This after a bitter campaign in which he accused his opponents of “clinging to the same worn-out, tired, snake-oil ideas that they were peddling before” and heard similar red-meat rhetoric from Republicans.

Some progress is possible. U.S. trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, long stalled by Democrats, could find new life. Obama could also achieve a scaled-backed energy plan that revives nuclear power and funds green investments.

The first clash will likely come over extending the Bush-era tax cuts due to expire at year’s end. Obama has adamantly said he will only agree to extend the cuts to families making less than $250,000 a year. Republicans want all the cuts made permanent.

If a “lame-duck” session of the current Congress cannot work out a deal during three weeks of work left this year, then the new Congress and its stronger conservative voices will face the issue in January.

A temporary extension of the tax cuts for a year or two seems the likeliest option.

“The Republicans are going to have to compromise,” said Linda Fowler, professor of government at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “Obama has got to run (for re-election) in two years and I doubt he’s going to agree to make them permanent.”

The potential for battle also exists over the president’s twin legislative victories this year, healthcare and financial regulation, although Republicans are likely to lack the votes to roll them back.

Republicans are targeting specific provisions of the financial regulation overhaul, such as funding for a new consumer watchdog agency that Obama considers a central element. They have vowed to repeal the healthcare law.

(Editing by Paul Simao)

Analysis: Can Obama bridge partisan divide?