By Steve Holland - Analysis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign strategy for Democrats in the November elections is taking shape -- appeal to Republicans to make compromises and if they do not, accuse them of obstruction.
Obama is basically angling to call the bluff of Republicans who he believes have done nothing but stand in opposition to his proposals on revamping the U.S. healthcare system and stimulating the economy.
It is a strategy he is outlining in town-hall meetings and most recently at Democratic fund-raising events he held last week, as he seeks to regain his political footing after Democrats lost their 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.
“I told my Republican friends I want to work together with them where I can -- and I meant it,” Obama said at a Democratic event on Thursday. “And I told them I will also call them out if they say they want to work on something then when I offer a hand, I get nothing in return.”
By the same token, Republicans are expressing a willingness to work with Obama -- up to a point -- and are interested to see if he really is willing to agree to some of their priorities.
Sensing they stand to make big gains in congressional elections in November, they are in no mood to agree to anything that would raise taxes or increase government spending and budget deficits.
“Republicans will not blindly abandon our commitment to the American people and throw out our principles,” said the top Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner.
And they are also wary of Obama, suspecting his newfound willingness to talk to them is a political ploy aimed at spotlighting their initiatives and ridiculing them.
Obama’s pledge to seek unity will be put to the test as early as this week. On Tuesday he hosts Democratic and Republican leaders from the House and Senate at the White House for talks on jobs and the economy.
Democratic leaders are pushing a multibillion-dollar jobs bill that is expected to seek an extension of unemployment benefits and aid to beleaguered state budgets, among other items.
Republicans want to see Obama hold true to pledges made in his State of the Union speech and seek measures to build more nuclear plants, increase offshore oil exploration and take steps to increase U.S. exports such as entering into foreign trade agreements.
Obama and his Democrats, struggling to bring down the country’s 9.7 percent jobless rate and having seen their healthcare overhaul stalled, are eager to prove to Americans they can generate results ahead of the November elections.
“Voters are looking for results,” said political analyst Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. “Right now they’re frustrated that they’re not seeing bipartisan results.”
Mindful that independent voters want to see bipartisanship and are disenchanted with Obama, Republicans are under pressure to prove they can join in governing, ahead of elections in which more than a third of the 100 Senate seats and all 435 House seats are at stake.
Some see a potential for agreement on a scaled-backed healthcare initiative.
“I would love to see a small-scale, sensible, centrist healthcare initiative get passed this summer,” said Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to Republican President George W. Bush. “I still would like to see progress get made wherever the center can hold on modest initiatives. But I think there’s no taste for anything major.”
The party in power typically loses seats in the first election after a new president takes office, and Democrats are in a defensive mode after Republican Scott Brown last month won a Senate seat in Massachusetts held for decades by Democrats.
The Cook Political Report’s latest forecast said Republicans stand to gain four to six Senate seats and 25 to 35 seats in the House.
That is not enough for Republicans to gain control of either chamber but sufficient to give them a louder voice and force Obama to take greater notice of their priorities.
“It’s never OK to decide the outcome of an election nine months away. But there are few signs that Democrats have an easy way out of this,” Wasserman said.
University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan said with the country locked in recession and facing other staggering problems, it can only help to have the two sides talking.
“It might create some common ground,” he said. “I just think it’s a healthy development if they can make a habit out of it. And if they can do it in a sincere way instead of trying to game it somehow.”
Editing by Mohammad Zargham