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Obama-GOP Summit: No Meeting Of Minds Expected

Nov 30, 2010

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Today may be Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2010 but the Tuesday you should be thinking about is Nov. 6, 2012, the day of the general election.

Because to understand today's White House summit between President Obama and Republican congressional leaders, especially the next House Speaker, Rep. John Boehner, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, you must keep in mind that it is the 2012 date that will be lurking in the minds of the assembled worthies.

In his public comments since Election Day 2010, Obama has clearly signaled that the message he drew from the Republican victories earlier this month was that independent voters, the pendulum of American politics, desire bipartisanship, meaning compromise.

Thus, Tuesday's summit will give Obama one more piece of evidence that he has extended a hand across the ideological divide, even if Republicans eventually slap it away, that he's made the effort. That could be an important message heading into his re-election campaign.

Republicans initially indicated after the midterm election that the message they received from voters, particularly those in the Tea Party movement who energized Republican turnout, was that there should be no compromise with Democrats.

In other words, GOP priorities of repealing the new health-care legislation and making the Bush tax cuts as close to permanent as possible for everyone, the super rich and middle-class alike, were non-negotiable.

Tea Party movement supporters have clearly said they will be watching to make sure House Republicans deliver on their promises of reduced spending and more limited government in making their decisions about whom to vote for in 2012.

So it looks like a case of the compromiser, the president, meeting the no-compromisers, the Republicans and both will be looking over their shoulders to see the reaction from the voters they're trying to appeal to.

But this is Washington where few things are ever black and white. Complicating matters will be the presence of current Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is also a no-compromiser when it comes to extending the Bush tax cuts to those making more than $250,000 a year.

She's indicated an unwillingness to budge on this, though that may just be her opening negotiating position. Still, the liberal base of the Democratic Party she represents is likely to be solidly behind her.

Not only will the participants not see eye to eye on policies, they don't even agree on who speaks for most of the American people.

The president will be the only one in the room who can honestly claim to have received the most votes from Americans, 69 million in 2008.

By comparison, turnout for the midterm vote is estimated at 90 million. And House Democrats estimate that if you added up all the votes they lost their races by, which allowed Republicans to pick up 63 House seats, you're talking about 250,000 votes, give or take.

Whatever, say Congressional Republicans; the GOP has a mandate.

But House Democrats say not so fast. The midterm results were not so much a referendum on Democratic leadership but the economy, they say.

Which is why they re-elected Pelosi to be their leader when they take the House minority in January.

So there won't even be agreement in the room on who really speaks for the American people. Which pretty much seems like a recipe for a photo op, if little else.

NPR's Liz Halloran has a piece that explains the political backdrop to this White House summit between political enemies. Politico also has a useful piece. It mentions that Republicans are none too happy with the president because they say he stole their idea of a pay freeze for federal workers without crediting them.

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