Obama’s legacy may be a total lack of cooperation

Executive actions show streak of defiance

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President Obama’s defiant emphasis on executive action reveals a larger failure looming for his legacy: His inability to work with Republicans means that he’s unlikely to score even one significant legislative achievement over the final years of his presidency.

Unless Democrats win back the House and hold onto the Senate in November, a scenario dismissed by most political analysts, Mr. Obama has said goodbye long ago to his biggest accomplishments in Congress. They occurred back in 2010, when Democrats controlled the House and Senate, and Mr. Obama signed into law Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform act and a two-year extension of across-the-board tax cuts originally authored by President George W. Bush.


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However, there is now divided government in Washington, and ideological cleavages have deepened and hardened, making a chore of negotiations, something at which Mr. Obama does not excel.

“I think the president would be happy to work with Congress if it was controlled by Democrats,” said David Bernstein, a constitutional law specialist at George Mason University’s law school. “I don’t think the problem is an aloof president who doesn’t get along with Congress; the problem is that the president and his advisers are from a generation of liberals who have utter contempt for and disgust with anyone to the right of a modern Democrat.”

Nowadays, as Mr. Obama’s feud with House Republicans deepens, the list of legislation that he is signing into law reads like a menu of small, bland plates: the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2014, the Collinsville Renewable Energy Promotion Act and, let’s not forget, the North Texas Invasive Species Barrier Act of 2014.

The president’s explanation of the problem is the same it’s been since early 2011 — Republicans won’t work with him. He repeated that theme again Tuesday at an event in Virginia, where he called on Congress to renew spending on road and bridge repairs.

“I want to work with everybody — Republicans and Democrats — to move this country forward,” Mr. Obama said. “Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress keep blocking or voting down some of the ideas that would have the biggest impact on middle-class and working families. Not just creating more new construction jobs, [but the Republicans have] said no to raising the minimum wage, to equal pay, to fixing our broken immigration system.”

But there’s little evidence that Mr. Obama is willing to work with Republicans on terms other than his own. A prime example is the Keystone XL pipeline, which Americans support by a margin of three-to-one and would create thousands of jobs.


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The House has approved a bill to build the pipeline. But the Obama administration, leery of angering the president’s environmental base, has delayed approval for the project since the start of his presidency.

Media fact-checkers have noted that House Republicans have approved nearly 50 bills to boost the economy, but Mr. Obama’s Democratic allies in the Senate have blocked all but a handful. Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, again urged the president Tuesday “to call [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid and suggest it’s time to take a look at these bills to get our economy moving.”

The impasse is causing frustration outside government circles too. At a meeting last week of the White House Business Council, an unnamed industry executive spouted off about the deadlock between the administration and congressional Republicans on renewed funding for transportation projects.

The business executive said a solution simply requires “political will on the parts of both parties” to raise the federal gas tax.

“Raise the damn tax. Let’s get on with it,” he told the president’s advisers.

Although a tax increase is a nonstarter in the short term, Greg Nelson, a senior economic adviser to the president, said “that shouldn’t stop us for having the conversation” about a long-term solution that would include a tax raise.

To show that he’s willing to consider Republicans’ ideas, Mr. Obama has been fond of telling audiences lately that he embraces the examples of Republican presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower, who built the interstate highway system; of Teddy Roosevelt, who created the national park system; and Richard Nixon, who founded the EPA.

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