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Obama to visit House Republican retreat in Baltimore

Despite the effort at bipartisanship, the president faces an emboldened party that may be unwilling to budge, experts say.

January 29, 2010|By Paul West

Reporting from Washington — President Obama will extend a hand to his political antagonists during a visit to a House Republican retreat today in Baltimore.

But the exchange -- part of his election-year attempt to generate more bipartisanship -- is unlikely to change Republican behavior, strategists and former members of Congress say.

"Republicans are emboldened. They think Obama has overshot the runway, and they're going to stick with their strategy," said Scott Reed, a Republican consultant.

As they left Washington for the three-day strategy session, Republican leaders did not seem to be in a frame of mind for compromising.

Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio said that Obama had "decided to just double-down on his job-killing agenda," while ignoring the angry voter message behind recent Republican victories in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts.

"There was nothing last night in the president's speech to indicate that there was any willingness to sit down and work together," he said of Obama's State of the Union address Wednesday. Boehner added that Republicans would try to find common ground with Obama, "but we're not going to roll over on our principles."

Heading into this year's congressional campaigns, Republican fundraising and recruitment have picked up. National opinion surveys show steady improvement in the party's prospects. And independent analysts predict that Democrats could lose dozens of House seats and, possibly, majority control of the chamber in the first midterm election of Obama's presidency.

Obama acknowledged the effectiveness of the opposition's strategy, even as he took a swipe at Republican obstructionism.

"Just saying no to everything may be good politics, but it's not leadership," he said in his State of the Union speech.

For now, at least, Republicans have little incentive to cooperate. Only three of the 37 most competitive House races this year feature a Democratic challenge to a Republican incumbent, according to the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

And Obama's attempts to woo Republicans could be constrained by growing restiveness within the president's own party. His pitch, during the State of the Union address, for building a new generation of nuclear power plants and possibly expanding offshore oil and gas drilling won immediate Republican approval but fell flat with Democratic liberals.

"It is in the president's interests, politically and probably governmentally, to try to get some Republican cooperation and some Republican buy-in," said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

Obama passed up opportunities during his first year that might have made it more costly for Republicans to oppose him.

For example, the administration bowed to a powerful Democratic special interest, the trial-lawyer lobby, and refused to make significant changes in medical liability as part of healthcare legislation. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a Republican proposal to limit medical malpractice costs would save taxpayers $54 billion over 10 years.

With elections ahead, a weakened Obama may find it more difficult to win Republican support for his agenda. But simply making a sustained attempt at bipartisan outreach could help put Democrats in a better position to attract swing votes this fall.

paul.west@baltsun.com

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