Is Obama Moving Bipartisanship Goalposts?

By Lindsey Ellerson

Feb 4, 2009 2:44pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: Beneath the surface of the Obama administration’s continuing efforts to rally support for the stimulus bill is an important shift that shouldn’t be overlooked: President Obama appears to be scaling back his efforts to attract a broad bipartisan consensus for his bill. Where once there was talk of a resounding bipartisan vote in Congress, the goal now is simple passage of the bill — even if that means (as seems very likely) it will pass with almost exclusively Democratic votes. Here’s what Obama said Tuesday on the subject, in an interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson: “I’m less concerned about bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake,” Obama said. “I’m interested in solving the problem for the American people as quickly as possible.” Larry Summers, the director of Obama’s National Economic Council, made similar comments in an interview with USA Today: “The president’s prepared to compromise . . . but our focus is on the fact that the American economy badly needs help,” Summers said. Contrast that with the comments Obama made on the subject Sunday, to NBC’s Matt Lauer: “Well, look, the important thing is getting the thing passed,” he said. He quickly added: “And I’ve done extraordinary outreach I think to Republicans, because they have some good ideas and I want to make sure that those ideas are incorporated. I am confident that by the time we actually have the final package on the floor that we are going to see substantial support and people are going to say this is a serious effort. It has no earmarks. We’re going to be trimming out things that are not relevant to putting people back to work right now.” In practice, the strategic shift means that the administration is less likely to make major structural concessions in the hopes of attracting a large group of Republicans. Instead, with even some moderate Democrats not yet on board, he’s focused on building support in the Senate one vote at a time. As ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported today, Obama is now meeting individually with centrists from both parties — senators including Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Arlen Specter, R-Pa. In terms of politics, this puts Obama closer to congressional Democrats, who digested the likelihood of a partisan vote on the stimulus far sooner than the White House. Some Democrats feared privately that Obama was allowing the GOP to define “bipartisanship” based on the ultimate vote total, even though the vast majority of Republicans were always likely to oppose the stimulus package. Instead, the White House is pointing toward the outreach to Republicans as the fulfillment of Obama’s promise to work in a bipartisan manner — deemphasizing the final vote tally. Today, Obama pushed back at critics of the stimulus in part by citing his victory at the polls — something, as ABC’s Jake Tapper points out, sounded almost like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent “we won the election” comment. “In the past few days I’ve heard criticisms of this [stimulus] plan that echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis — the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can ignore fundamental challenges like energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive,” Obama said. “I reject those theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change.”

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