President Starts New Term Off On The Wrong Foot

Earlier today members of the 114th Congress were sworn in and took their oath of office for the new term.

There has been a lot of talk about the promise for a more bipartisan, conciliatory Congress. This has been coming from both sides – President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have all trotted out their best lines to this effect.

But it seems that only hours into the 114th Congress the President is already showing signs of backtracking.

This afternoon, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that the President would veto Keystone Pipeline legislation, a point that both he and the President made late last year before the crucial Senate vote that ended up sealing Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s electoral fate.

This is surely the wrong foot for the President to start off on. While it’s certainly possible that he may still be open to negotiations if the Republicans are willing to offer some flexibility in exchange, it sends a bad message to Congress and, indeed, to America.

This isn’t to say that the Republicans don’t have a lot to prove – they do. With control of both Houses, they have the chance to put forward an agenda and potentially to get a decent amount of it passed. But this depends, to a large degree, on President Obama’s willingness to wield his veto pen. And he seems very willing.

It follows that as we embark on a new congressional term, there are a number of areas that Republicans and Democrats should be able to come together on. To be sure, Keystone is one of them and I remain hopeful that President Obama will revise his stance on the pipeline – it’s good for America and will create jobs.

But beyond Keystone, the new Congress should take up:

  1. Immigration reform. The new immigration bill should be two parted. First, the border should be secured and then we should take up creating a pathway to citizenship. A majority of Americans are in favor of this and it’s not like the Democrats don’t want a secure border. This could actually be an easy win for both sides and we could see progress on this critical issue.
  1. Debt, deficit and fiscal reform. Congress should implement the Simpson-Bowles 2.0 plan. Over 80% of Americans support a bipartisan compromise on budget proposals that cut wasteful spending, reform our outdated tax code, and makes changes to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security that will sustain them for future generations. My own polling shows that Americans are prepared for and want shared sacrifice to ensure our fiscal security as a nation.The public wants entitlement reform and may even be willing to pay higher taxes to get it. There’s certainly a way to find common ground here and put an end to stop gap solutions.
  1. Healthcare reform. We can’t hear any more talk of repealing Obamacare – it’s here to stay. The challenge is to improve it with reforms like purchasing insurance across state lines and tort reform, as well as getting rid of the medical device tax. A blend of Obamacare and Coburncare is possible. The President should make it clear that he’s willing to open his signature law up for debate. There is little chance of progress if he doesn’t lead on this issue – a move that he will have strong support for from his own party.

There is plenty more opportunity to find common ground and it is my sincere hope that the 114th Congress will do much more than the 113th. This is certainly within their power – and within the framework of their ideological positions – to do so.