“We believe that we can move forward as long as no one in the talks takes a ‘my way or the highway’ approach,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters in late June, days after the debt-ceiling talks led by Vice President Biden collapsed over an impasse on tax increases.
Two months earlier, as both parties were deadlocked over keeping the federal government funded, President Obama struck the same note.
“What we can’t do is have a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to this problem,” Obama told reporters at the White House in early April. “Nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. And we have more than met the Republicans halfway at this point.”
Now, as Obama prepares to deliver his jobs plan to Congress, it would appear that the tables have turned.
Congressional Republicans on Monday maintained a tone of bipartisanship in their reactions to Obama’s jobs proposal, with the top two GOP leaders in the House saying that they are open to some parts of the president’s plan – and accusing the White House of a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.
Both the new note of cooperation and the move to cast the White House as uncompromising mark a new turn in the national debate over the country’s jobs crisis and the still-struggling economy.
The shift is one that has happened over the past week since both chambers returned to Washington after a five-week recess and a debt-ceiling fight that caused both parties’ approval ratings to plummet.
“I said on Friday, and I’ll say again today: I do not think the president’s all-or-nothing approach is something that is constructive,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday at his weekly pen-and-pad with reporters. “And we have good ideas; he’s got some ideas that we think are good. We could bring these together. But let’s not allow the things in his bill that we disagree with to get in the way or producing some results.”
Cantor pointed to the country’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate and argued that Americans “want to see us get something done.”
“For the president to sit here and say, ‘Pass my bill, all or nothing,’ it’s just not the way things are done anywhere, much less in Washington,” Cantor said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), too, reacted to Obama’s announcement that he will deliver his jobs speech to Congress on Monday evening by emphasizing the need to find common ground.
“While we have a different vision for what is needed to support job creation in our country, we appreciate the President’s pledge to transmit legislation to Congress and will immediately request that it be scored by the Congressional Budget Office,” Boehner said in a statement. “Once we receive CBO’s analysis, we can begin the important work of reviewing the various elements of his proposal. ... It is my hope that we will be able to work together to put in place the best ideas of both parties and help put Americans back to work.”
Is the White House, in fact, taking an “all-or-nothing” approach?
As The Post’s Greg Sargent noted last week, in the days since Obama’s jobs speech, the White House has made the case that the entire jobs plan – not simply parts of it – should be taken up by Congress.
“Our belief is that everything in this bill is reasonable,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told NBC’s Chuck Todd last week, Sargent notes. “Everything in the bill has bipartisan support. Everything will have an effect right now. And so we want them to pass it.”
That’s forceful, but not quite my-way-or-the-highway. And while Obama in his Rose Garden remarks Monday morning urged that Congress “needs to pass” the bill, the White House has thus far steered clear of making ultimatums.
Where the debate goes next will depend largely on what happens next week, when the White House gives more details on how its plan will be paid for. But for now, each side’s approach would appear to have political benefits.
After a debt-ceiling fight that bruised both parties, but particularly the GOP, House Republicans can make the case that they’re open to working together with Democrats and the White House on jobs; Cantor on Monday ticked off a list of areas of potential agreement including tax relief for small businesses, the three long-pending trade bills and regulatory and unemployment reform.
The White House, meanwhile, can argue that Obama has presented a bipartisan plan that contains some proposals Republicans have backed in the past. By presenting the plan as a whole, Obama can also make the case to his base that he’s not backing down from his entire proposal (at least, not for the time being).
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