- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the midst of highly polarized moments, President Obama frequently calls for pursuing “common ground” between those involved - an ideal we all seek and an attempt to set himself above the political fray. Most recently, Mr. Obama used his post-election news conference to call for finding common ground for legislative action that will “move the American people’s agenda forward” during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Although calling for common ground is an attractive rhetorical device for Mr. Obama, don’t get your hopes up that it will be found, considering his abysmal track record. That is, unless he sets a new course for common ground.

Mr. Obama first promised the pursuit of common ground in his presidential campaign, pledging to transcend partisan politics, an ideal that successfully engaged young voters and political independents, bringing unprecedented energy into his movement. Yet, when his inauguration came and went and the pursuit of his legislative agenda began in earnest, he failed subsequently to invite Republicans to substantial policy discussions and also failed to adopt any of their policy prescriptions, most notably on his two significant accomplishments: the stimulus and health care overhaul.

Then, at his commencement address at the pro-life University of Notre Dame, the pro-choice president called for pursuing “common ground” on reducing the number of abortions. Nineteen months later, he has shown no forward movement on this issue. Rather, the number of abortions is likely to increase because of his health care overhaul, which provides for the federal funding of abortion.

Now Mr. Obama is somehow supposed to find common ground for action in the lame-duck Congress when his credibility in this area is next to none?

Let’s even assume that Mr. Obama is sincere and ready to find common ground. Where would he find it?

Mr. Obama’s Democratic majority is not remotely concerned with bipartisan cooperation at the present moment. Democrats realize the lame-duck session of Congress is their last real chance to institute leftover items of their agenda for the next several years and are threatening another, go-it-alone, do-it-at-all-costs assembly.

Just compare the Republican and Democratic priorities for the lame-duck session for a simple understanding of the ocean that separates them:

1. Democrats -Expiration of the George W. Bush tax cuts on the “wealthy,” an omnibus spending bill, the DREAM Act, card check and an energy bill in the form of “cap-and-trade” or a renewable energy standard.

2. Republicans -Full extension of the Bush tax cuts and a continuing resolution to fund government operations through early next year.

Save for a miracle, common ground for action in the lame-duck session isn’t anything worth betting on. Where common ground actually may be found is in inaction, or what not to do during the session.

If Mr. Obama and Republican leaders can first find common ground for inaction, that well may lead to a healthier working relationship between the two that could lead to common ground for action in the next Congress.

I suggest they start with forgoing a deficit-inducing omnibus spending bill in the lame-duck session.

Mr. Obama and Republicans have common ground in their rhetorical recognition of the need to reduce our persisting, record deficits. Last year the president called for a freeze on non-security discretionary spending, and Republicans have spent the last year campaigning for reining in Democrats’ out-of-control spending.

However, to find common ground in reducing our yearly deficits, significant time needs to be dedicated to setting budget priorities jointly and developing a series of substantial cuts that a sufficient number of members of both parties will support. Rational actors will agree that this simply cannot be done in a two-month lame-duck session that includes the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Therefore, the president should join Republicans and forgo an omnibus spending bill, instead passing a continuing resolution that will fund government operations at current levels until common ground on spending reductions can be found and pursued in the next Congress.

With Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin declaring that an omnibus spending bill is one of the Democrats’ top three priorities for the lame-duck session, don’t be surprised if the party pushes back against a president that settles for anything less. This would be all the better for Mr. Obama, as it would demonstrate to voters that he has turned a new leaf toward the bipartisan cooperation necessary to achieve his goal to “move the American people’s agenda forward,” perhaps saving his presidency along the way.

Alex Cortes is chairman of the Restore the Dream Foundation.

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