- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Despite his continued calls for collaboration, just two weeks after President Obama’s State of the Union address, the window has closed on the areas of bipartisan cooperation he laid out, with Republicans saying his budget puts some ideas out of play and Democrats taking others off the table.

Republicans say Mr. Obama’s list was already fairly short. They rejected out of hand his renewed push for health care and his call to curb a Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance, leaving drilling for oil and gas here at home, pushing nuclear power and enacting more free-trade agreements as the chief areas that drew applause from the GOP.

But Democrats have balked at the trade agreements. And Republicans said the budget that the president proposed last week shows he isn’t serious about energy because he zeroed out funding for the planned nuclear waste facility. They also said Mr. Obama’s budget belies his support for drilling because it assumes less revenue from that.

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“Its not hard to figure out that there’s some kind of shell game going on here. I know bipartisanship when I see it, and its not saying one thing and doing another,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told reporters.

The White House repeatedly says it wants to find avenues of cooperation. Mr. Obama met with with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders yesterday at the White House — the first of the regular meetings he proposed in his address to Congress. He has also called for a televised bipartisan summit later this month to try to reignite momentum for his health care bill.

Republicans say progress will be impossible unless the president starts new with his bill.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are seeking bipartisan support for a second stimulus jobs package but say they are prepared to move ahead unilaterally.

That posturing leaves energy as one key area where cooperation seemed possible — particularly given the words Mr. Obama used in his State of the Union speech, in which he promised to make “tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development” and said he supports “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants.”

But five days after his address to Congress, Mr. Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget cut all funding for Yucca Mountain, the nuclear waste depository pushed by the Bush administration, and without which nuclear energy’s expansion remains uncertain.

“It’s hard to take him seriously — let’s push nuclear energy at the same time he makes it impossible to deal with the waste,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican.

“What we’re losing now is just the ability to trust what he said,” Mr. DeMint said.

The budget also assumes less revenue in 2011 from oil and gas leases, which Republicans said signals Mr. Obama’s true direction.

“If more areas are opened to exploration, revenues would increase, not decrease,” said Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee. “Less revenue means less exploration. This shows this administration has no intention of opening up new areas to offshore drilling.”

Asked about the budget moves, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said the Interior Department is working on a plan for offshore oil and gas drilling “in a responsible way.”

As for nuclear energy, two days after the president said he wanted to move on the issue, he effectively pushed back the deadline for any decisions by two years by creating a blue-ribbon commission to study nuclear energy and nuclear waste storage.

The one area Mr. LaBolt mentioned for bipartisan cooperation with Congress was on climate change. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, has been working with Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to craft a bill.

Mr. Graham is also the lynchpin Republican as Democrats search for bipartisan agreement on immigration. He has been working with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, to write a bill.

Mr. Obama is facing some pressure within his own party to push back against liberal Democrats.

Last week, while Mr. Obama was addressing Senate Democrats at their annual policy retreat, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas told the president he needs “to push back on our own party and look for that common ground that we need to work with Republicans.”

Minutes later, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana asked Mr. Obama to prove that the Democratic Party can be trusted on bringing down the deficit and controlling spending.

Mr. Obama turned both questions into attacks on Republicans, arguing that they want to return to policies that led to the 2008 financial breakdown and are pushing “to make sure that we continue the tax breaks for wealthiest Americans.”

On free trade, it’s Democrats who are pushing the door closed.

“I am still skeptical when the administration talks about increasing trade without first having a conversation about how to make trade work better for American companies and workers,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and Mrs. Slaughter’s counterpart on the Rules Committee, said as he left the chamber after the State of the Union address he asked Mr. Obama’s economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, when they might expect Mr. Obama to push for agreements. All Mr. Summers would tell him is “soon,” Mr. Dreier said.