National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Obama Learns The Limits Of Bipartisan Overtures




WASHINGTON — President Obama should stop trying to win over Republican lawmakers in Congress.

He has turned the other cheek — and they slapped that, too.

Since winning the November election, Obama has been trying to change the ways of Washington — a goal that may prove more elusive than he originally thought.

He was in hot pursuit of bipartisanship by socializing with the members of the GOP, inviting them to the White House, trying to sell them on his economic recovery plan– but he struck out.

No Republican member of the House and only three GOP members of the Senate– Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania — voted for the $800 billion-plus package designed to pull the country out of the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.

The bills– passed by the House and Senate– have some differences and will have to be reconciled in a conference committee.

With stingy bankers reluctant to give loans for autos and student school expenses, Obama is learning the hard way. Many banks took the taxpayer money — please notice the lack of whiney complaints about “government intervention” or “creeping socialism” — but have yet to thaw their credit channels.

No wonder the taxpayers are up in arms. It also was a shocking eye opener to see outrageous bonuses paid out to financial executives even when their companies were down and out. And here I thought pay was linked to performance.

Obama should have said “No more Mr. Nice Guy” after he was rebuffed by uncooperative Republicans on Capitol Hill. But he insists he’s taking the long view.

The president told a White House news conference Monday night:

“You know, when I made a series of overtures to the Republicans — going to meet with both Republican caucuses — you know, putting three Republicans in my Cabinet (Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Commerce Secretary Judd Gregg and former Rep. Ray LaHood as Transportation Secretary) something unprecedented; making sure they were invited here to the White House to talk about the economic recovery plan — all these were not designed to try to simply get some short-term votes.

“They were designed to try to build up some trust over time. And I think that as I continue to make these overtures, over time hopefully that will be reciprocated.”

Don’t count on it, Mr. President.

Obama said his plan is supported by businesses representing almost every industry in America; by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.

The president said the package also contains input, ideas, compromises from both political parties.

He explained the money bills have “an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability. . .”

Obama managed to get some digs in against the Bush administration and its tax-cutting spree for the wealthiest people over the last eight years.

The president said failure to act on the bailout plan “will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans.

“My administration,” he added, “also inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing little or doing nothing at all will result in even greater loss of income and even greater loss of confidence.”

“These deficits could turn a crisis into a catastrophe,” he said. “I refuse to let that happen.”

He set a goal to create 4 million jobs with the infusion of billions into the economy.

Obama also pledged to do whatever it takes to put the economy back on track and the country back to work.

This reminds me of the New Deal and the 1930s when there was 25 percent unemployment and Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated programs to help the destitute, the handicapped and the elderly and established the Social Security program.

Think of what could have happened to Social Security beneficiaries if former President George W. Bush had succeeded in privatizing Social Security and putting it on the stock market.

Bush left his successor a mere two wars and a sinking economy.

As my friend and former White House correspondent Alvin Spivak put it: “Stars Fell on Obama.”

(Helen Thomas can be reached at 202-263-6400 or at the e-mail address hthomas@hearstdc.com).

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