Obama frustrated by budget divide

Almost two months into his second term, the US president must reach compromise with conservative Republicans

President Barack Obama arriving on Capitol Hill, Washington, yesterday for closed-door talks with House speaker John Boehner. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

President Barack Obama arriving on Capitol Hill, Washington, yesterday for closed-door talks with House speaker John Boehner. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo


President Barack Obama, almost two months into his second term in the White House, conceded yesterday with a degree of obvious frustration that the gulf between his administration and a House of Representatives controlled by the Republicans may be too great for any deal to be reached on reducing the budget deficit.

“Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide,” he told ABC News, even as he was set to venture up to Capitol Hill to try to hammer out some kind of compromise with congressional Republicans.

As his approval rating fell below 50 per cent in a new poll, showing the honeymoon following his re-election in November and inauguration has ended, the 44th president faces strong headwinds to securing agreement on legislation on a new budget, gun control laws and immigration in a deeply divided Congress.

The Washington Post -ABC News poll published yesterday showed US voters are far more disillusioned about the president’s ability to manage the economy than they were last December.

The advantage held by Obama over congressional Republicans on the issue of whom the public trusted more on the economy had fallen from 18 percentage points in December to just four points.

The poll results were published as Republicans and Democrats proposed fundamentally different designs on plans to fix the budget, illustrating that a deal to reduce the ballooning US deficit is still some way off.

Spending plan
Republican congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney ’s running mate last year and chairman of the House budget committee, proposed a 10-year spending plan, resurrecting divisive issues from the GOP budget last year, including slashing social programmes such as Medicare healthcare for the elderly and a repeal of Obama’s first-term flagship healthcare law, which would be anathema to the White House.

On the Democratic side, the Senate ’s budget committee chairman Patty Murray of Washington proposed a rival package that would raise taxes by almost $1 trillion (€740 billion) over a decade – something that would be abhorrent to Republicans – and spend almost $100 billion on a new jobs package.

Republicans are strongly resisting any new tax increases after conceding $600 billion of new revenue to avoid the fiscal cliff at the end of last year – the president’s only victory over the GOP since the election.

The entrenched positions between the parties will be further underlined this week when Republican lawmakers and conservative activists meet for a three-day conclave, the Conservative Political Action Conference, where the speakers will include Romney and former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, John McCain’s presidential running mate in 2008.

Immigration reform
The increasing momentum among Democrats and Republicans towards immigration reform to deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants, including thousands of Irish “undocumented”, is one area where compromise may be reached. This has arisen primarily from the GOP’s chastening defeat in the presidential election and the acceptance within the party that it must change if it is to have any chance of winning back support among increasingly influential Hispanic voters who were crucial to Obama’s victory.

Despite Obama’s stronger mandate from his comprehensive re-election and the Democrats winning more Senate seats, the party still doesn’t hold a filibuster-beating majority of 60. Republicans still control a central lever of power in Washington where the president is one political player among many.

The president has recently turned away from using the bully pulpit to rally public opinion to pressure Republicans. Instead Obama has embraced a new charm offensive of dining out with and meeting senior GOP members. Both methods point to the fact that the president is trying to deal with a dysfunctional political system averse to compromise that is throwing up obstacles such as sequestration, a bipartisan poison pill swallowed in 2011 that both sides believe was so awful it would force them to reach agreement later to avoid it.

The electoral dependence of members of Congress, particularly Republican representatives, on conservative primary voters is one impediment to the consensus-building Obama requires.

The ability to force through new gun control and immigration laws over the coming months will show whether Obama can find compromise with Republicans or if he will remain stuck in the Congressional logjam.