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Editorial

'Slurpee Summit' gets chilly reception

With both sides appearing unyielding after the summit, President Obama would be better off focusing on one-on-one, grandstanding-free discussions with GOP leaders if he hopes to find bipartisan agreement.

December 01, 2010

The "Slurpee Summit" is over, and if its participants didn't sound as frosty afterward as 7-Eleven's brain-freezing concoction, they clearly still weren't all that sweet on each other either. So what was the point?

Tuesday's meeting, convened by President Obama in hopes of finding bipartisan agreement on such issues as extending the Bush-era tax cuts and ratifying the New START nuclear treaty, produced a glimmer of progress: Negotiators from both parties will meet with administration officials to try to hammer out a compromise on taxes. But with GOP leaders saying after the meeting that they're determined to extend all the cuts and Obama saying that he will fight to extend them only for the middle class, the positions seem as entrenched as ever.

It's unclear what Obama expected to accomplish by calling together eight top congressional leaders from both parties, the vice president, the Treasury secretary and the budget director to a session lasting less than two hours. With so many voluble egos in the room, it would be a wonder if anyone had time to get past party talking points.

The impression that the summit would be more about showmanship than substance was reinforced long before it even began. After White House reporters coined the term "Slurpee Summit" — a reference to an Obama quip about Republicans sipping Slurpees while Democrats were working to get the economy out of a ditch — 7-Eleven rushed to capitalize on it with a purple Slurpee (a mix of Democratic blue and Republican red). The GOP boosted its own brand identity by publicly snubbing the president, with leaders saying they were just too busy to attend on Obama's proposed date of Nov. 18. The message: We dictate terms now.

Obama mentioned that there would be more bipartisan summits, and GOP leaders seemed pleased that the president conceded he hadn't spent enough time with them in the past. That's nice. But if there is going to be less partisan tension and more compromise on important legislation, it isn't likely to happen at a "Slurpee Summit," or a beer summit, or a healthcare summit, or any other kind of summit. Such large, high-profile events can serve a political purpose, yet they rarely accomplish anything of substance. And for Obama, who seldom engages in the kind of personal, back-channel communication characteristic of such presidents as Lyndon Johnson, they represent his only concerted attempts to reach out to the opposition. If he really wants to form a relationship with the other side, he would do well to focus on one-on-one, grandstanding-free discussions.

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