The Note, 1/28/09: Old Habits -- Journey to post-partisanship takes a detour in Congress


President Obama learns Wednesday what bipartisanship means when it’s left to Congress to define -- and if this is harmony, how long until the next song comes on?

It may be the president’s great bad luck that Republicans used the moment of his inauguration to rediscover fiscal discipline. It may be House Republicans' lasting mistake to stand in the way of the new president’s momentum. It may be House Democrats’ fault for crafting a bill only they want to vote for -- though it’s hard to imagine them developing a package that a large number of Republicans would ever wind up supporting.

But here we are, after all those meetings and phone calls, the public and private injections of this thing called "bipartisanship," and the House will approve a stimulus measure Wednesday that almost no Republicans will support.

The prospects for GOP support in the Senate are better, but not by much. And so, Obama won’t get the big bipartisan coalitions Ronald Reagan and even George W. Bush did in the early days of their presidency, at least not this time.

Welcome to Washington, Mr. President. Old habits do indeed die hard, sir.

"President Obama faces the first test of the bipartisanship he pledged in his campaign when the House votes today on an $825 billion economic stimulus plan opposed by most Republicans," USA Today’s David Jackson and Richard Wolf report

An opposition party is finding its voice -- maybe by accident, but it matters just the same. This is what you get when you come to office not just to govern, but to govern like no one has before.

"It was the love affair that could never be, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans," Politico’s Patrick O’Connor and Jonathan Martin write. "Beneath the polite give and take between the new president and the newly disempowered Republican caucus, there was a sense that Obama’s honeymoon had already begun to ebb. For the first time, it seems, congressional Republicans, shut out of power and seemingly cowed by the harsh verdict of voters and wild popularity of the new president, are finding their voice, rallying in large numbers against the centerpiece of Obama’s agenda." 

"Long before Barack Obama became president, he spurned the ‘smallness’ of American politics and the old habit of muscling past the opposition to get things done. But old habits die hard," the AP’s Nancy Benac reports. "While Americans overwhelmingly embraced Obama's message of unity, already there are Democrats thirsting for the spoils of victory and Republicans pushing back with force." 

The battle is joined: "But the final product is certain to fall well short of the Republican ideal of seeing a package heavy with tax breaks and light on new domestic spending, and both the White House and Democratic leaders worry that GOP lawmakers will use procedural tactics to stall a final vote as they seek to erode support for the plan with the public," Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post

"President Barack Obama is unlikely to get the broad bipartisan support he seeks for his $825 billion economic stimulus bill in either chamber, despite a Tuesday charm offensive in which he allowed both House and Senate Republicans to question him directly about his plans on their turf," per Roll Call’s Emily Pierce and Steven T. Dennis

House Republican leaders hardly sent an inviting message by telling their members to vote against the package even before they met with the president to discuss it.

But that was a plea (trap?) for Obama to insert himself into the legislative process, if not in the House (too late for that) than with his former colleagues in the Senate, and then in the conference committee.

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