President Obama is intensifying pressure on Republicans to join him in passing a jobs bill and reviving health care reform, warning Americans are “tired of every day being Election Day in Washington.”
“The people who sent us here expect a seriousness of purpose that transcends petty politics,” Obama told reporters at a surprise White House press conference.
The president's bipartisan-heavy remarks followed a meeting with congressional leaders where he also pushed for a joint fiscal commission to study generating revenue and cutting federal spending.
But Obama, whose administration often functions in full-throttle campaign mode, faces long odds in getting Republicans on board with his agenda.
“I won't hesitate to embrace a good idea from my friends in the minority party, but I also won't hesitate to condemn what I consider to be obstinacy that's rooted not in substantive disagreements but in political expedience,” Obama said.
Election-year politics play a role in keeping the two sides apart, but the parties also are so polarized on key issues that consensus remains elusive. Notably, polls show a majority of Americans oppose Obama's health care reform efforts.
“We're not interested in a dog and pony show to trumpet failed bills that, in fact, the Democrats can't even pass right now,” said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. “We're not interested in that because the American people aren't, either.”
Cindy Rugeley, a political scientist at Texas Tech University, said Obama has figured out how to have it both ways: Earn credit for getting Republicans to work with him, or let them refuse and have Republicans bear the blame for being obstructionist.
“He's trying to set up the win-win, where we all come up with a jobs bill together, or we couldn't because Republican won't work with us,” Rugeley said.
But the partisan standoff goes both ways. Democratic leaders rejected most Republican proposals for reforming health care and blocked the minority party out of final negotiations. Obama also frequently mocks Republican fiscal policy as tax cuts.
Republicans are rejecting Obama's call for a fiscal commission, calling it a ruse to justify tax increases. The party also takes a dim view of Obama's proposed health care summit on Feb. 25.
Obama campaigned on a promise to transcend the partisan divides of Washington. But once in office, he found the bipartisan promise hard to keep.
His new tack on bipartisan cooperation follows the Democratic Party's recent loss of its supermajority in the Senate, and tracks polls showing overwhelming majorities believe Washington is too partisan and both sides are to blame.
The president, who returned to the podium after more than six months without a press conference, appeared jovial and relaxed, making a joke about the effect his drive for bipartisanship was already having on lawmakers.
“It went very well,” he said, “in fact, I understand that [Senate Republican leader Mitch] McConnell and [Senate Democratic leader Harry] Reid are out doing snow angels on the South Lawn together.”