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Obama Can Do More to Be Post-Partisan, but Will GOP Join?

President Barack Obama is doing his best to change the tone of politics in Washington, but he’s obviously got a long way to go to establish real post-partisanship.

[IMGCAP(1)]He has to keep trying, though, because, even if Republicans vote en masse against his short-term stimulus package, he’s going to need bipartisan solutions to address the continuing banking crisis and the nation’s long-term fiscal peril.

Obama has indicated that he will keep reaching out to Republicans in substance as well as form — but he’s made clear he also knows how to apply the whip of public opinion if they resist everything he tries.

Claiming the moral high ground as he visited with Republicans for three hours on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, he called for them to “put politics aside,” implying that sustained opposition could be attacked as merely partisan.

And, I think — along with presidential scholar Richard Norton Smith on PBS Tuesday — that it was no offhand remark that Obama urged Republicans to just not listen to conservative talk-show extremist Rush Limbaugh, who has declared about Obama: “I hope he fails.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on “Meet the Press” last Sunday, “We want this president to succeed,” but sustained opposition could be characterized as slavishness to Limbaugh — and determination to let the country fail as well as the Obama presidency.

As Smith said, Obama “knows the Republican Party has been reduced to a rump, ideologically and geographically, and he’s going to give them a choice of being, in effect, the Rush Limbaugh Republican Party or the Ronald Reagan Republican Party.”

When House Republicans objected to the idea of giving refundable tax credits to people who don’t pay income taxes (but do pay payroll taxes), Obama reminded them that it was Ronald Reagan who established the modern earned income tax credit in 1986, a major reach across ideological lines.

Besides listening to Republicans, Obama has taken some steps to accommodate their ideas, eliminating such “porky,” non- stimulative items as funds for family planning and refurbishment of the National Mall.

After Republicans complained that the House stimulus bill contains cuts amounting to only 33 percent of the $825 billion package — down from 40 percent earlier — he also agreed to a “fix” for the alternative minimum tax that will raise the percentage of tax cuts in the Senate stimulus bill to 38.5 percent.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs hinted Wednesday that there could be further concessions — and there ought to be.

The House bill still contains non- stimulative spending that could be eliminated, such as $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and $335 million to fight sexually-transmitted diseases.

And Obama ought to seriously consider additional GOP-suggested tax cuts, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) proposed payroll tax “holiday” of one or two years, which would help both employees and employers, and cancellation of taxes on unemployment benefits.

He also should consider GOP proposals to refocus some of the stimulus on the nation’s housing crisis, possibly by having the government guarantee 4 percent mortgages for one or two years and/or provide a 15 percent tax credit for new home purchases.

And, especially, Obama ought to clear up the nagging ambiguity over whether he will try to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000 by ruling it out as long as the economy is in recession.

Obama’s own top economic adviser, Christina Romer, wrote in a 2007 academic paper, “tax increases appear to have a very large, sustained and highly negative impact on output.”

She also added — in a line now widely quoted by conservatives — that “tax cuts have very large and persistent output effects.” Romer now argues that government spending produces $1.50 in stimulus for every $1 spent, while cuts produce just $1 for every $1 in tax reductions.

The more Obama leans toward the GOP, of course, the more some of his fellow Democrats are likely to squawk — as some of them already are doing.

According to Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a moderate Blue Dog, liberals in the Democrats’ caucus meeting on Tuesday indulged in “a lot of carping and moaning — ‘Why isn’t it bigger?’ ‘Why aren’t we spending more money?’ ‘Why are there any tax cuts here?’ It’s the New Deal revisited.”

Cooper thinks that “Barack has achieved a great, bipartisan, post-partisan victory” with the basic design of the stimulus package. … This is sausage that I think will taste pretty good.”

Cooper is one of the leaders of a bipartisan movement to contain the nation’s crushing long-term debt burden, which Obama has promised to address in his forthcoming budget.

Obama told House Republicans, “I would love to not spend this [stimulus] money. I agree that our long-term debt is unsustainable. I do not want to increase government for its own sake. Those days are over.”

And, with that attitude, Limbaugh wants him to fail? Do Republicans?

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