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How to close our National Schmoozing Deficit

March 06, 2013|By Doyle McManus
  • President Obama shares a moment with First Lady Michelle Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) during the inaugural luncheon at the Capitol on Jan. 21.
President Obama shares a moment with First Lady Michelle Obama and House… (Allison Shelley / Getty…)

In my Wednesday column, I wrote that President Obama and most leading members of Congress know what a solution to the fiscal crisis looks like; they just can’t get there from here because they don’t trust one another much.

Obama is trying to change that by taking a dozen Republican senators to dinner Wednesday night at the neutral ground of Washington's elegant Jefferson Hotel, and by going to lunch in the Capitol with GOP Senate and House members beginning next week. The hope is that a little schmoozing will do the trick -- or at least end the silly notion that we wouldn’t have political gridlock if Obama spent more time with Republicans on the golf course.

But there’s a contrary view of our National Schmoozing Deficit: Maybe what’s needed isn’t more GOP face time with the president but less.

That’s the view, at least, of Mickey Edwards, who was a Republican member of the House from Oklahoma for 16 years. (Since he left Congress in 1992, he’s taught at Harvard and Princeton, served as a vice president at the Aspen Institute and worked on efforts to reform the political system, including the centrist “No Labels” organization.)

“It’s Congress’ job to fix this [fiscal] problem, not the president’s,” Edwards told me. “At some point, the president becomes an impediment.

“I like this president, but I think he sometimes has trouble keeping his mouth shut. In this case, I think what he should do is shut up and step back. He should tell them: 'This is your thing. Get together, work across the aisle and send me something.' ”

Members of Congress from both parties might find that a welcome message. When the “fiscal cliff” crisis loomed, it wasn’t the president who made the deal; it was Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. 

So, Mr. President, enjoy your dinner tonight. But don’t make it all business. It might work better, in the long run, to tell the senators it’s their deal to make, not yours, and that you know they’ll do the right thing -- even if you don’t believe it.


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