Why it's so important for the president and his party to force the GOP to vote on his agenda now
BY STEVE KORNACKI
There are two ways of thinking about the ambitious second term legislative strategy President Obama is pursuing. Calls for new gun laws, comprehensive immigration reform, a hike in the minimum wage, and a “balanced approach” to undoing the sequester and striking a long-term deficit reduction plan highlighted his State of the Union message last week.
It may be that the White House sees this as an opportune moment to pounce, with Republicans still digesting their defeat last November and fissures within the party beginning to surface. So why not take this occasion to put the GOP on the spot on a series of issues where its orthodoxy is out of line with mainstream opinion? Even with Republicans running the House, there may just be enough sentiment from potentially vulnerable incumbents – and from party leaders sensitive to the GOP’s national image – to strike some deals with Obama on his agenda.
If this is Obama’s game, there’s some evidence it’s working. Already this year, we’ve seen Republicans give ground on their anti-tax absolutism, allowing a fiscal cliff deal that raised rates on income over $450,000 to come to the House floor, where just enough GOP members voted “yes” to allow it to pass. Republican leaders and conservative opinion-shapers have also been willing to give Sen. Marco Rubio some latitude in pursuing an immigration deal; even in light of Rubio’s most recent comments on the subject, the prospect a compromise will be reached is still real. And there has been impressive bipartisan movement toward a tightened background check system for gun purchases.
So it makes sense for the White House to push hard now and test just how far the GOP is willing to budge in its somewhat confused current state. But there’s probably a longer-term calculation at work too, one rooted in a recognition that there’s only so much Obama can achieve with Republicans running the House – and that there’s only so far those Republicans will ultimately go.