Obama, Republicans Still Looking for 'Enormous Areas' of Agreement

Based on the bills that have passed the House, and Obama's several veto threats, there's much more to disagree upon in Washington.
Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

When the 114th Congress began last week, President Barack Obama said he was confident he and the Republican-controlled body would disagree. “I’m also confident that there are enormous areas of potential agreement that would deliver for the American people,” Obama said. 

On Tuesday, Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden, met with 19 members of Congress to try and figure out (and possibly create) some of those areas of potential agreement. Obama and Republicans agreed on trade, the need for a cybersecurity bill, and a resolution to authorize the fight against the Islamic State.

But those brief glimmers of hope for bipartisanship have been dwarfed by veto threats, the defiant passage of bills despite said threats, and a general unwillingness to compromise on both sides. In fact, the list of disagreements between the Republican-controlled Congress and the president would appear to be much longer than the one that includes the “enormous areas” of ideological harmony.  

Disagree on immigration reform

House Republicans voted Wednesday on a bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security, but not Obama’s executive immigration order. This is a symbolic measure—if it gets past the Senate, it will be vetoed—and Speaker John Boehner has acknowledged that. “Our goal here is to fund the Department of Homeland Security,” Boehner said, according to The New York Times. “And our second goal is to stop the president’s executive overreach.”

Disagree on Keystone

Like immigration, Keystone is another long-running political headache carried over into the new Congress. The Senate voted Monday to advance the bill approving of construction of the pipeline, and is scheduled to debate it next week. Obama has promised to veto the legislation. 

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have proposed attaching an amendment to the bill that would force Republicans to admit whether they think man made climate change is a real thing. The “sense of Congress” amendment, introduced by Bernie Sanders, reads that climate change is real, is caused by humans, is causing damage, and needs to be fought with new energy sources. 

Disagree on Obamacare

The House has passed three bills limiting Obamacare in the new Congress, including a controversial attempt to change the law’s 30-hour work week to a 40-hour work week. Obama has promised to veto the bill if it makes it through the Senate.

Under the health care law’s employer mandate, companies with 50 employees or more must provide insurance who work 30 hours or more. Republicans argue that the 30-hour limit is pushing employers to cut hours on part-time workers, while Democrats argue that raising the bar to 40 hours a week would expose more workers to cuts

Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, also introduced a bill repeal Obamacare. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, tweeted:

Disagree on financial reform

On Wednesday the House also passed a bill that would delay the implementation of a rule forcing banks to offload their “collateralized loan obligations” (risky investments) by next year. Though the Federal Reserve already delayed the rule until 2017, the bill passed by the House—and opposed by most Democrats, and a lone Republican—would delay the rule until 2019.

Democrats argue that the CLOs are similar to the risky investments that led to the last financial collapse. Republicans, along with a few Democratic allies, and Wall Street lobbyists, argue that the investments help businesses “obtain financing during a sluggish economic recovery,” the Hill reported.

Agree on Cybersecurity

Republicans and Obama agree on trade, passing a resolution to fight the Islamic State and reforming the tax code, though nothing official has been introduced. But on the subject of cybersecurity, Obama plans to introduce his proposal for a new bill that would, among other things, allow businesses to share information with Homeland Security, during his State of the Union address next week.

“With the Sony attack that took place, with the Twitter account that was hacked by Islamist jihadist sympathizers yesterday, it just goes to show much more work we need to do both public and private sector to strengthen our cybersecurity,” Obama said Tuesday, referring to the hacking of the U.S. Central Command’s Twitter account.

The Guardian noted that privacy groups are already challenging the proposal, on the grounds that information sharing is available under current laws and the new proposal may allow near real-time sharing between Homeland Security and the NSA, FBI or secret service. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, is on board. “Recent events certainly underscore the need, again, to tackle cybersecurity,” he said. Given that Democrats don’t support a trade deal and tax reform is a huge project, this tiny area of agreement will have to do for now.