(Bloomberg) — Republican lawmakers said President Barack Obama risks antagonizing an already polarized Congress by threatening to use executive authority to make good on the policy agenda he will outline in his State of the Union address.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama is wrong to think he can bypass lawmakers if they don’t make legislative progress this year.
“Ronald Reagan didn’t think that and Bill Clinton didn’t think that,” McConnell said yesterday on Fox’s “Fox News Sunday” program. “Frequently, times of divided government are quite good times in terms of achieving things for the American people.”
McConnell said Obama erred since the 2010 elections that brought Republicans to power in the House by deciding to have “hung out on the left and tried to get what he wants through the bureaucracy, as opposed to moving to the political center.”
After failing to win congressional support last year for priorities such as revised immigration laws, raising the minimum wage and gun background checks, administration officials touted a backup strategy of executive action, even as a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 63 percent of Americans lack confidence in Obama’s ability to make the right decisions for the country’s future.
“The president sees this as the year of action, to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary to lift folks who want to come up into the middle class,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program yesterday.
The strategy risked antagonizing Republicans even before Obama gets his chance to make the case for his legislative agenda in a prime-time televised address on Jan. 28.
“It sounds vaguely like a threat and has a certain amount of arrogance,” said Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who draws support from the small-government Tea Party faction, in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
Paul said Obama’s complaints about congressional gridlock were misplaced. “Welcome to the real world. It’s hard to get legislation passed,” he said.
The partisan rhetoric was tempered by predictions from both sides that it may be possible to reach some bipartisan deals this year.
Paul said there may be cross-party support for tax changes to encourage U.S. companies to bring profits home from overseas. He said he asked Obama to consider taxing overseas profits at 5 percent, with the revenue going to infrastructure.
Carney said the White House is “actually optimistic” about getting an immigration package to the president this year.
One of the biggest tests for cooperation between Obama and Republicans may come next month, when the federal government is again forecast to run out of money to pay its bills unless the federal debt ceiling is raised.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and Tea Party champion who helped trigger a government shutdown last year to protest the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), signaled his willingness to begin a new fight over the debt ceiling. Obama has said the limit must be raised without any trade-offs.
“We shouldn’t just write a blank check,” Cruz said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He said, “In the past, the debt ceiling has been the most effective leverage point for real structural reform.”