Lat­est pivot for Obama: Con­trol of Capi­tol Hill

GOP, health care woes block­ing broad agenda

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Af­ter of­fer­ing an apol­ogy for the failed roll­out of his sig­na­ture health care re­form law, Pres­i­dent Obama in re­cent days has “piv­oted” yet again — this time into full-blown cam­paign mode, blast­ing Repub­li­cans and reit­er­at­ing his wish list of agenda items that can be achieved only if his party re­claims full con­trol on Capi­tol Hill.

Over the past week, the pres­i­dent has spo­ken at Demo­cratic Party fundrais­ers in Dal­las and Mi­ami, and used a Fri­day speech in New Or­leans to bash the Repub­li­can Party and lay out an am­bi­tious se­cond-term agenda that in­cludes im­mi­gra­tion re­form, in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment and free trade agree­ments. His un­der­ly­ing strategy, an­a­lysts say, is twofold. First, the White House is ea­ger to turn at­ten­tion away from Oba­macare, which con­tin­ues to

garner noth­ing but neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity from web­site glitches at Health­Care.gov, re­ports of Amer­i­cans be­ing booted off their in­sur­ance plans and other prob­lems.

Se­cond, and per­haps more im­por­tant, is the pres­i­dent’s res­ur­rec­tion of a mes­sage to vot­ers — along with wealthy donors and party foot soldiers — that he needs Democrats in full con­trol on Capi­tol Hill to ac­com­plish any­thing sub­stan­tive dur­ing his fi­nal years in of­fice.

Mr. Obama’s “pivot,” a term the White House has used when lay­ing out strate­gies for re­fo­cus­ing on the econ­omy and job cre­ation, also is an at­tempt, ahead of next year’s midterm elec­tions, to re­claim the nar­ra­tive of his pres­i­dency rather than con­tin­u­ing to be driven by fre­quent neg­a­tive news of the day.

“The pres­i­dent many, many times has tried to pivot back to the econ­omy,” said Lara Brown, di­rec­tor of the Po­lit­i­cal Man­age­ment Pro­gram at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. “Now, in all of his speeches, he’s piv­ot­ing back to his agenda, with him try­ing to be the agenda set­ter rather than the re­ac­tionary pres­i­dent. … And they’re surely try­ing to get off topic from Oba­macare. They were hop­ing by this time it would ac­tu­ally be a sell­ing point.”

Some party lead­ers, such as Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­woman Deb­bie Wasser­man Shultz, ar­gue that the health care re­form law will be a net pos­i­tive for Democrats next Novem­ber.

Repub­li­cans say the op­po­site, and Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Reince Priebus said Sun­day that his party will bring up Oba­macare con­tin­u­ally and “tat­too it to [Democrats’] fore­heads” as the elec­tions ap­proach.

Re­gard­less of Oba­macare’s im­pact on con­gres­sional elec­tions, the firestorm around the law has shown no signs of let­ting up. Last week, Mr. Obama sat down with NBC and of­fered a rare apol­ogy for the glitches at Health­Care.gov and the fact that mil­lions of Amer­i­cans stand to lose their in­sur­ance as a re­sult of the law, even though the pres­i­dent re­peat­edly and em­phat­i­cally promised that wouldn’t hap­pen.

Since that in­ter­view, Mr. Obama seems ea­ger to move on.

On the road, Oba­macare largely has been ab­sent from most of his speeches, which in­stead have been a mix of Repub­li­can-bash­ing and big, broad agenda-set­ting — or a com­bi­na­tion of the two.

“If you just looked ob­jec­tively at what the Demo­cratic Party and Demo­cratic se­na­tors stand for right now, it’s a lot more aligned with what the Amer­i­can peo­ple be­lieve and what they care about than what a small fac­tion of the other party is try­ing to pro­mote,” Mr. Obama said Fri­day night at a party fundraiser in Mi­ami, again tak­ing shots at the tea party Repub­li­cans in the House whom the pres­i­dent holds per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for the par­tial govern­ment shut­down last month.

“And I’m con­fi­dent that there’s go­ing to be an ad­just­ment process where the Repub­li­can Party kind of moves back to rea­son and com­mon sense. But they’re only go­ing to do that if our pol­i­tics is re­flected, or elec­tions re­flect, that com­mon sense,” the pres­i­dent said. “And if they’re re­warded for co­op­er­a­tion and, when [law­mak­ers] aren’t look­ing out for the in­ter­ests of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, there are some con­se­quences. And that’s why elec­tions mat­ter. That’s why they count.”

Dur­ing his swing through New Or­leans and Mi­ami, Mr. Obama rat­tled off his leg­isla­tive wish list that, with the no­table ex­cep­tion of im­mi­gra­tion re­form, had been for­got­ten in re­cent months: in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture and ed­u­ca­tion, more free trade agree­ments, stricter gun con­trol and other is­sues.

But by ty­ing suc­cess of those is­sues to a Demo­cratic win in 2014, Mr. Obama may be in­ad­ver­tently aban­don­ing any hope for progress over the next 12 months, Ms. Brown said.

“When you de­mo­nize the other side, I don’t un­der­stand how it is you can then work with them. If you call the other side crazy for a year and a half, it’s very dif­fi­cult to say, ‘Oh, yes, I’ve de­cided to ne­go­ti­ate with those ir­ra­tional peo­ple,’” she said. “I would tell him he ac­tu­ally needs to stop go­ing to the peo­ple. He needs to stay in Wash­ing­ton and fo­cus on try­ing to get some­thing done. If you want to start win­ning with the Amer­i­can peo­ple, you have to start rack­ing up some small wins and achieve­ments.”

Fur­ther­more, the pres­i­dent is wast­ing a key op­por­tu­nity to high­light the suc­cesses his ad­min­is­tra­tion can claim, Ms. Brown said.

De­spite its prob­lems, Oba­macare rep­re­sented a ma­jor win for Democrats’ decades­long ef­fort to re­form the na­tion’s health care sys­tem.

Un­der Mr. Obama, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency has be­gun to im­ple­ment a host of reg­u­la­tions de­signed to re­duce car­bon emis­sions and make good on the pres­i­dent’s pledge to con­front cli­mate change.

By most ac­counts, Mr. Obama came out of the govern­ment shut­down a po­lit­i­cal win­ner, hav­ing stood his ground and re­fused to give in to Repub­li­can de­mands that he dis­man­tle or de­lay parts of the Af­ford­able Care Act. The deal to end the shut­down also has brought about an­other round of bud­get talks on Capi­tol Hill, which may re­sult in a com­pro­mise spend­ing plan in which the pres­i­dent gets at least some of what he wanted.

“But you don’t hear the pres­i­dent talk­ing about hav­ing the pos­si­bil­ity for a new bud­get deal,” Ms. Brown said. “He seems to be more in­ter­ested in fo­cus­ing on, once again, the things Repub­li­cans aren’t do­ing be­cause that helps him stay in cam­paign mode.”

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