President Barack Obama followed more than two trying weeks the best way he knows how: with a stirring speech that sought to heal wounds, repair damage and push Washington forward.
Mr. Obama used an address at the White House to call on Democratic and Republican lawmakers to seize on the bipartisanship that ended the government shutdown to resolve other policy disagreements.
“The way business is done in this town has to change,” Mr. Obama said Thursday. “We have to regain the trust of voters.”
The President’s comments echo those of lawmakers, who insist – more vigorously than they have in the past – the politics of gridlock and brinksmanship have to change. In a symbolic gesture, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate budget committee, Patty Murray, and the Republican head of the House budget committee, Paul Ryan, met for breakfast Thursday to begin work on a broader fiscal plan.
Mr. Obama urged lawmakers to complete a proper budget before the end of the year. The compromise that ended the government shutdown and extended the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority commits lawmakers to hold formal fiscal talks with a December deadline.
He also called on Congress to resolve its differences over immigration policy and to pass a new “farm bill,” omnibus legislation that covers agriculture subsidies and food aid for poorer Americans. Both bills have been passed by the Senate, yet they languish in the House of Representatives.
“Those are specific things that would make a huge difference in our economy,” Mr. Obama said, adding that all three initiatives – the budget, immigration reform and the farm bill – could be completed this year.
It will take more than a speech to restore confidence in the U.S. government, however. The solution that politicians adopted to avoid a default and reopen government simply created new deadlines a few months down the road: federal spending authority will lapse again in early January, and the Treasury again will come up against its debt ceiling in early February. Washington’s track record suggests the New Year will bring another round of debt drama.
“The short-term nature of the deal has left some investors worried that the whole crisis will simply be repeated in a few months’ time,” analysts at Capital Economics wrote in a report Thursday. “The credibility of U.S. policy making has been dealt another serious blow.”
Mr. Obama knows this. He said American diplomats around the world have reported that the budget fiasco has harmed U.S. credibility. The President told his audience that the “manufactured” drama of the last few weeks have “depressed our friends” and “emboldened our competitors.”