Carolyn Kaster / AP
Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012 | 2 a.m.
At first, it seemed as if President Barack Obama — despite overcoming the drag of a weak economy — wouldn’t try to suggest that the result gave him an unequivocal mandate to govern.
But that didn’t last long.
“On Tuesday night, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach,” Obama said in a speech Friday, in which he promised to veto any fiscal-cliff compromise that extended tax cuts on incomes over $250,000. “Our job now is to get a majority in Congress to reflect the will of the American people.”
Obama’s decision to put his foot down early marks an important turnaround for the president, who has been criticized for being too conciliatory and too post-partisan in his attempts to broker ways out of past fiscal crises, such as the debt ceiling debacle of summer 2011.
But it may also undercut the focus on bipartisanship that had dominated the first few days after the election.
“If there’s a mandate in yesterday’s results, it’s a mandate for us to find a way to work together on solutions to the challenges we all face as a nation,” House Speaker John Boehner, the nation’s top Republican, said Wednesday. “Mr. President, the Republican majority in the House stands ready to work with you.”
“The American people want us to work together,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the same day, reprising a speech he made in his first turn as majority leader. “I said that I know how to fight. I know how to dance. I don’t dance as well as I fight, but I’d much rather dance anytime. And I still feel that way.”
For the past two years, cooperation has been the elusive. Congress has failed to accomplish much because policy discussions of all stripes were subjugated to a struggle for power between a Democratic-led Senate and a Republican-led House facing down a crucial election.
That election is now past. But not much else has changed.
Sure, Democrats have picked up seats in the Senate in a year when they were expected to lose ground — a testament to the strength of the party’s candidates and their message. But fundamentally, the balance of power in Washington hasn’t been altered one bit.
And neither has the roster of what these lawmakers have to tackle. The fiscal cliff — the combination of government budget cuts and scheduled tax hikes that start to take effect Jan. 1 absent congressional action — still is the first order of business for Congress.
But after a year and a half of bickering, lawmakers desperately need a fresh approach, or at least an infusion of camaraderie, to bring about a resolution and set the stage for other topics — such as immigration and energy — where the parties may find common ground.
Then again, it’s not as if the president was the first to qualify the spirit of compromise. Both Boehner and Reid beat him to the punch.
“A balanced approach isn’t balanced if it means higher taxes on small businesses,” Boehner said, moments after singing cooperation’s praises. “I’m not suggesting we compromise on our principles.”
“I’m going to do everything within my power to be as conciliatory as possible; I want to work together,” Reid said. “But I want everyone to understand: You can’t push us around.”