WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama, trying to set a positive tone after his party's sweeping midterm losses, sat down with bipartisan congressional leaders on Friday and offered a list of areas for potential cooperation. He mentioned making college more affordable, funding infrastructure improvements and overhauling the tax code.
With the GOP in control of both chambers on Capitol Hill and fears of gridlock deepening, those are the issues most often cited as ones in which Congress and Obama could successfully work together. Republicans have suggested ways to fund more infrastructure programs and refill the highway trust fund. A bipartisan group worked on rewriting the tax code during the past session. “Those are all going to be areas where I’m very interested in sharing ideas,” Obama said.
Republicans brought their own agenda to the meeting. “The top issue in this election was jobs and the economy,” a House Republican leadership aide said. “Republican leaders will remind the president that the list of House-passed jobs bills is a great place to start for immediate, bipartisan action to help create more private-sector American jobs.”
Obama extended the invitation as it became clear that Republicans were going to seize control of the Senate. At the lunch, he congratulated Republican leaders on their success. Speaking before the meeting, the president said he would give the congressional leadership an update on the response to Ebola and the fight against ISIS.
His guests from the House included Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. From the Senate, his lunch companions were Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who are likely about to swap jobs) and Chuck Schumer, vice chairman of the Democratic conference. There was no bourbon visible, despite the suggestion that Obama and McConnell would share a glass of Kentucky's finest.
In a line he has used before (to little discernible effect), Obama said he was committed to bipartisanship. “I’m not going to judge ideas based on whether they are Democratic or Republican. I’m going to be judging them based on whether they work,” Obama said. “I’m confident they are going to want to produce solutions.”
Obama made a point of praising the jobs numbers that were released on Friday morning, which showed the unemployment rate at a six-year low of 5.8 percent. “Business is out there investing, hiring; the economic indicators are going in the right direction,” Obama said.
The president is correct: Unemployment has dropped from over 10 percent in 2009, and the economy has continued to expand for more than 55 months. But the party in power usually does well with those kinds of numbers -- and Obama's party got smacked. So while he's still in the Oval Office, when it comes to dealing with Congress, he's not in the driver's seat.