Republicans Reach for Bipartisanship, Obama Grabs the Veto Stamp

As the curtain lifts on the new Congress, a new political drama appears brewing in the wings of Washington. Over the past four years the media has crafted a story in which do-gooder Democrats fought the good fight against the GOP’s intransigence. There were heroes (President Obama), there were villains (Mitch McConnell), and there were plenty of antiheroes (Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, etc.) in this poor knockoff of a Greek tragedy. But if the last few days are any indication the script is soon to be flipped, and we should all be the better for it.

Republicans have decided to set an optimistic tone that focuses on productivity and bipartisanship. The goal is not to come out swinging at President Obama or even set clear dividing lines between the party’s relative agendas, instead Republicans will focus on legislation that could’ve have passed but for Harry Reid’s decision to effectively shut down the Senate.

“On Tuesday, we begin a new Congress, and that means a new start on the people’s business,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said in the Weekly Republican Address. “If we work together, we have a great opportunity to grow our economy and put our nation on solid footing for a bright future. That’s why the House will start off with jobs bills that have bipartisan support but were never considered by a Democrat-run Senate.”

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot. Immediately prior to the November elections there were 350 pieces of legislation sitting on Harry Reid’s desk. More than 95 percent of them passed with bipartisan support. Nearly 50 percent of them passed unanimously, with no opposition from either party. And we’re not just talking about bills that rename Post Offices, we’re talking about substantive legislation that could ease the struggles of the nation’s job creators.

Take, for instance, the America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act, which would allow small businesses to write-off more of the costs of their capital investments. That bill passed with the support of 53 Democrats. Or take the Hire More Heroes Act, which makes it easier for small businesses to hire veterans by providing an exemption to Obamacare’s employer mandate. That bill passed nearly unanimously, with 183 Democrats in support. And there are dozens more bills, none of which anyone knows about because they don’t receive a word of debate from the Senate.

POLITICO’s Jake Sherman and Seung Min Kim report on what the early days of the new Congress could look like:

Energy and Obamacare will dominate the first two weeks of Republican control of Capitol Hill.

House Republicans will move next week on legislation to jump-start the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and define a full workweek as being 40 hours for the purpose of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a GOP leadership aide.

The goal, quite simply, is to begin passing bills that will clear both the House and the Senate and end up on President Barack Obama’s desk. Almost all of the bills Republicans will put on the floor passed the House last Congress, when Democrats held the majority in the Senate.

Another issue to be tackled in the early days of session is a repeal of Obamacare’s controversial medical device tax, a poor piece of policy that is being passed on to consumers in the form of higher medical costs. The repeal should also have bipartisan support. The Hill notes that it has “support from a growing number of Democrats” including “liberal-minded lawmakers, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn).”

While Republicans focus on passing bipartisan policies that are considered good ideas no matter which side of the political aisle in which you’re seated, President Obama is taking a much different stance. The Hill reports:

The administration is planning new executive actions and legislative proposals in the buildup to his State of the Union address at the end of the month. It is also staking out areas where the president will aggressively use his veto authority.

At the White House on Monday, spokesman Josh Earnest voiced optimism about the president’s approach and appeared to relish the chance to go on offense against Republicans.

While Republicans are busy working on “the people’s business” it appears that President Obama is focused solely on burnishing his legacy with a slew of go-it-alone executive actions. Will the media catch onto the narrative of a problem-solving, productive Congress in tension with a president whose playing fast and loose with a veto stamp? Doubtful. But hopefully the voting public will.