It won’t be the relaxed dinner-and-drinks working session President Barack Obama wanted, but the White House still hopes Tuesday’s delayed and abbreviated summit with Republicans will start to bridge the bipartisan divide.
The problem for Obama is that GOP leaders have little incentive to cut any deals in the lame-duck congressional session — the better to capitalize on their new House majority in January — and have no appetite for major compromise on the extension of Bush-era tax cuts or their deficit-cutting platform.
“I’m hopeful that we’re going to hear from the president a willingness to reflect what the people spoke on Nov. 2, and that is, ‘Stop it,’” House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who is counting the days until he takes over as majority leader, told POLITICO.
“Stop the policy agenda you’ve been about over the last 20 months, and let’s go about seeing if we can return to a situation where we can see some [economic] growth prospects again,” he warned Obama.
“The hope is that all sides can agree that we need to focus on the have-to-do items, like funding the government while reducing spending and preventing a tax hike on every American taxpayer,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Maybe we can have a discussion later on the ‘wanna-do’ items, but it’s now been a month since the election, and it’s time to focus.”
But the president’s agenda boils down to a pair of starkly different, far more ambitious priorities: a temporary tax cut, preferably for middle-income families only, and rapid Senate ratification of the stalled Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
And Obama’s attempt to find common ground ahead of the meeting — his last-minute embrace of a two-year wage freeze for federal workers — was met with skepticism by some Republicans, who are irked by Obama’s failure to credit them for the proposal during his brief remarks Monday.
“This was a pretty obvious missed opportunity,” said a GOP leadership aide. “If you’re going to embrace a proposal that Republicans have made in the past, why not say so? Why try to hog all the credit? Communication is like bacon — it makes everything better. But this was just ham-fisted.”
Along with McConnell, Cantor, Speaker-to-be John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Obama will be joined by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Whip Jim Clyburn, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Majority Whip Dick Durbin.
The session, which will be held in the Cabinet Room at 10:30, is expected to last between 60 and 90 minutes, scarcely enough time for Obama and the congressional leaders, all known for prolixity, to make their opening statements.