Just as the Republicans in Clinton’s time decided their political survival depended on coming to the table, the GOP of today might do the same. “Republicans overplayed the government shutdown, and President Clinton won that battle,” said Dan Glickman, a former House member who was Clinton’s Agriculture secretary. “And, with that, he effectively used the bully pulpit to control the agenda. He gave a lot of cover for people to vote for him. It’s not the only factor, but members of Congress are much [more] likely to support a president when the people at home are inclined to support the president.”
Hill Democrats are openly encouraging Obama, whom they saw as failing to reach out during his first term, to rebuild those relationships. “What kind of commitment from the White House will there be to work the Congress aggressively, daily and continuously?” wondered Glickman, who is now a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “It can be painful to do that, because presidents don’t like that part of the job. I’m not sure this president likes it either.”
What, exactly, would qualify as successful bipartisanship this year? Certainly, passing comprehensive measures on immigration, guns, and deficit reduction will need a shocking, even historic level of cooperation among the bickering parties. But perhaps congressional approval of even one of those issues, while turning down the volume of usual partisan rancor, might qualify as a success, at least relative to recent sessions. Especially if lower-profile but still important items, such as the farm bill, can pass quietly into law without much wrangling between the parties. That might be all anyone can reasonably hope for on Capitol Hill.
It won’t be Clinton and Gingrich redux, but even a faint echo of that period would stand out these days. “I’m not looking for heaven on earth,” Glickman said. “But I am more optimistic.”