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Despite all the nice talk, partisanship reigns

House Minority Leader John Boehner, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listen to President Barack Obama during a discussion Tuesday among House and Senate leaders about the economy.

Associated Press

House Minority Leader John Boehner, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listen to President Barack Obama during a discussion Tuesday among House and Senate leaders about the economy.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama made a multi-pronged appeal for bipartisanship Tuesday. He hosted Republican congressional leaders at a meeting on jobs, then held an unannounced news conference to ask for greater accord on at least a half-dozen issues.

But any doubts that bare-knuckled partisanship still grips Washington were diminished when Republican leaders stepped outside the White House and denounced Obama's health care plan, even suggesting they might not attend his Feb. 25 summit.

Tuesday was a perfect example of high-minded appeals for cross-party cooperation being quickly undermined by barbs. Obama and Republican leaders couldn't even agree on a definition of bipartisanship.

"Bipartisan cannot mean simply that Democrats give up everything that they believe in, find the handful of things that Republicans have been advocating for, and we do those things, and then we have bipartisanship," Obama told reporters. "There's got to be some give and take."

Two hours earlier, House Minority Leader John Boehner had stood outside the White House and openly questioned whether Obama's bipartisan health care summit will have any value. He and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Obama first must scrap the Democrats' bills; Obama says no.

That followed Monday's letter from Boehner and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor in which they told the president: " 'Bipartisanship' is not writing proposals of your own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support."

Other examples, just on Tuesday, of how difficult bipartisanship will be:

• Obama said he would work with Republicans on energy in areas such as nuclear power, clean coal technology and oil drilling. But when he noted that McConnell supports the ideas, he added a dig: "Well, of course he likes that. That's part of the Republican agenda."

• Obama offered his strongest rebuke yet of Republicans for holding up his federal appointments, saying the Senate had turned "advice and consent" into "delay and obstruct." Though Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama released his hold on about 70 government appointees this week, Obama still threatened to start installing appointees when Congress is in recess.

• Obama insisted he wanted substantive talks, not theater, at the health care summit, offering to consider a medical malpractice overhaul, a key GOP demand. The Republican National Committee promptly accused him of using the meeting as "political theater to attack Republicans."

• Boehner labeled an op-ed column by an Obama administration official a "cheap, irresponsible political smear." Deputy national security adviser John Brennan had written in USA Today that "politically motivated criticism" of administration policies "only serve the goals of al-Qaida."

Throughout the day, both sides accused the other of wanting to take without giving.

Despite all the calls for brotherhood, no one offered a new map for how Congress might resolve impasses over energy, debt reduction, health care and immigration, let alone the looming problems with Social Security and Medicare that have gone unaddressed for years.

Fast facts

Jobs bill in works

Senate Democratic leaders hope to introduce a jobs package this week. It's expected to include:

• A proposal from Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to suspend the employer's share of Social Security payroll taxes for every unemployed worker hired this year.

• Tax credits for small businesses that hire new workers.

• Extending through the end of this year tax breaks that expired at the end of 2009, notably a research and development credit.

• Extending soon-to-expire bonding authority that makes it easier for state and local governments to finance public works projects.

• $20 billion for infrastructure projects.

McClatchy Newspapers

Despite all the nice talk, partisanship reigns 02/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 10:30pm]
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