That’s the optimistic view. But running counter is another reality. The agenda is extraordinarily challenging, and trust remains at a minimum. The issues on the calendar — gun control, immigration and the budget — strain the coalitions of each party. At the same time, existing philosophical differences and the rigid contours of political polarization stand in the way of agreements.
Obama has spent the winter working a bifurcated strategy. One part is his so-called charm offensive, his outreach to Senate Republicans designed to create some sense of goodwill. Next week he will have another dinner with GOP senators, hoping to create a climate more favorable to productive negotiations.
The other part of the strategy is regular trips outside of Washington designed to rally public opinion and to ratchet up pressure on Republicans to compromise. Obama just finished such a trip, which included a rally for his gun-control proposal, which faces mounting opposition, as well as a visit to California to raise money for the 2014 elections.
Republicans wonder which Obama is the real one: the man on the charm offensive or the partisan pol fattening his party’s coffers with an eye on retaking the House. The answer may be both: a president who long has believed he could bring opposing sides together and a politician who emerged from his reelection campaign with renewed confidence in his own agenda and with a harder edge.
Obama’s budget offer
Obama’s inaugural address was notable for the progressive agenda he outlined and his obvious impatience with united Republican opposition. Since then, he has repeatedly said he is eager to work with Republicans who are willing to work with him and that he and they should both be willing to compromise.
The president’s latest tactical move came Friday, with reports — first in the New York Times — that Obama will offer Congress a fiscal blueprint that includes cuts in future spending on Medicare and Social Security. It is a budget designed to satisfy neither congressional Republicans nor his party’s left flank.
White House officials, who described the outlines of the package to reporters, heralded the budget as a signal to Republicans that Obama is serious about making concessions in order to produce the fiscal grand bargain that has eluded him for two years.
In his weekly address Saturday, Obama said of his forthcoming budget: “While it’s not my ideal plan to further reduce the deficit, it’s a compromise I’m willing to accept in order to move beyond a cycle of short-term, crisis-driven decision-making, and focus on growing our economy and our middle class for the long run.”
Obama’s willingness to cut the two big entitlements programs dates back to his negotiations with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) over the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. At the time, he persuaded House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to accept cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and White House officials long have claimed that the two leaders agreed to help rally their colleagues to accept them as part of a grand bargain.