Opinion Columns & Blogs

May 3, 2013

Albert R. Hunt: Obama, GOP both fell short in first 100 days

The 100-day mark is a measure for first-term presidents, not re-elected ones.

The 100-day mark is a measure for first-term presidents, not re-elected ones.

Yet the end of April was a propitious moment for an early evaluation of how President Obama and congressional Republicans are meeting the aspirations set out in January.

The answer: Both are falling short.

The White House thought a comfortably re-elected president would have more clout, and face less-resistant Republicans, to strike a compromise on the deficit, avoid the mindless across-the-board sequestration cuts, pass a gun-control measure and an immigration overhaul, and get Congress to embark on a broad new agenda, including universal preschool education.

With the exception of immigration, this agenda is going nowhere.

Democrats as well as Republicans on Capitol Hill say this is partly because of the Obama style, which is unchanged from the first administration: a reticence to negotiate and an inability to close on what supporters think are good deals.

Critics say the Obamaites deluded themselves in suggesting that they had a mandate from the November election.

It would then seem reasonable to assume that the Republicans are the beneficiaries of these shortcomings. Wrong.

After losing a presidential election it expected to win, the party had public postmortems and came to some obvious conclusions: Republicans have a problem with young voters, Hispanics and women – the groups that hold the future of the body politic.

They’ve made a little progress on the social-cultural matters. The anti-gay marriage rhetoric has tamped down, and a few Republicans, such as Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, have switched their position. Other Senate Republicans, notably John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, are central players in trying to forge a comprehensive immigration-reform package.

Still, look for more anti-gay broadsides in Republican primaries next year; that message still appeals to the party’s political base. Even if an immigration bill is successful in the Senate, a majority of Republicans may vote against it.

On economic and business issues, there has been no discernible change. They still advocate huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and while Obama has made concessions on cutting entitlements, Republicans won’t budge on taxes.

Already, only six months after the November referendum and more than a year and a half before the next national elections, strategists say that those next contests may be the opportunity to break this impasse.

Yet the more Democrats look at the House, the less optimistic they are. Part of the gloom is caused by the way districts were drawn after Republicans won control in many states in the 2010 election. A larger reason is population patterns; Democrats cluster more heavily in fewer districts.

Republican hopes to take back the Senate – Democrats hold a 55-45 majority – looked promising, with seven seats held by Democrats in play and a plethora of big-name retirements. Yet those open seats in states such as Iowa, Michigan and Montana look like an uphill climb for Republicans. The best odds now: Republicans will gain several seats, but short of the half dozen they need for control.

If little changes over the next 18 months, there is one sure outcome: Obama and Republicans will posture for the last two years of this administration, looking for a new message to voters in 2016.

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