Bipartisanship sounds nice, but seldom works

True to his pledge on the campaign trail, President Obama, in the spirit of bipartisanship and a more civil tone in Washington politics, ventured to Capitol Hill this week for separate closed-door meetings with House and Senate Republicans to sell his $825 billion stimulus plan.

It was a trip he didn’t have to make. The stimulus plan will ultimately pass, although getting it through the Senate might be a bit of a chore. In any case, Obama failed in his mission. He changed no Republican minds, but the president got high marks for trying.

The effort was doomed from the start. House GOP leaders rather churlishly announced that they were voting against the measure even before Obama arrived to make his case. At least they could go through the motions of hearing him out.

Obama did not arrive empty-handed. He persuaded Democrats to drop from the package $335 million in family-planning money for Medicaid that seemed to particularly irk the Republicans. The Senate added a $70 billion patch to the Alternative Minimum Tax that many Republicans want. And $200 million to renovate the National Mall that the Republicans thought should have been dealt with separately was dropped.

But on another area of disagreement, a $500 tax credit for workers who pay payroll taxes but earn too little to pay income taxes, Obama said, "Feel free to whack me over the head, because I will not compromise on that part."

By all accounts, he listened patiently and intently to Republican gripes: The stimulus plan had too much spending, too little tax relief and added too much to the deficit. The Democrats had cut them out of the bill drafting and loaded it up with extraneous provisions.

Therein lies a problem that Obama will have to deal with. The Democrats, especially in the House, are treating the Republicans as shabbily as the Democrats were treated when the GOP was in the majority. A return to the poisonous atmosphere of the Bush years — "My way or the highway" — would be thoroughly undesirable.

We hope Obama does more of this kind of reaching out to the opposition. He didn’t make the sale this time but he likely banked plenty of good will that could be handy down the road.