WASHINGTON — With a history-making inauguration and all its festivities past, President Barack Obama will enjoy some good will as he faces the task of easing the country’s woes, lawmakers say.
But they warn he must continue his bipartisan tack or risk losing support.
“President Obama has a lot on his plate right now,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who holds the No. 3 leadership post among Senate Republicans. “I think he has set the right tone, and if he’ll govern in the middle and give Republicans a chance to participate, he’ll get more support from us than the Democrats gave President Bush.”
At the top of President Obama’s agenda is how to reinvigorate the nation’s sputtering economy through a stimulus plan. But also demanding attention are wars on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with a tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Energy policy remains a major priority, too, and domestically, spiraling health care costs are a perennial concern.
“A new president deserves a certain amount of time to put (his) team in place,” said Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn. “That said, I’m sure they can chew gum and walk at the same time, so we must continue addressing our most pressing issues.”
Presidential honeymoons don’t follow any consistent patterns, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Both former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had very short honeymoons, the result of unclear mandates from the voting public, he noted. Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, enjoyed a lengthy one emerging from the Great Depression, as did Lyndon Johnson in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Dr. Sabato said.
President Obama has the benefit of succeeding a very unpopular president, while his margin of victory over John McCain gives him a comfortable mandate, Dr. Sabato said.
“Our guess is that Obama will be one of the luckier chief executives,” he wrote in his weekly Crystal Ball column on the Center for Politics Web site. “Obama’s comfortable 53 percent victory, the massive dose of positive publicity he has received because of the historic nature of his ascendancy, and an extraordinarily good transition has combined with Americans’ yearning for a return to economic prosperity.”
But Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said President Obama must rein in liberal Democratic leaders in Congress to enjoy broad support. He noted that President Obama enjoys high approval ratings, while the Democratic-led Congress has record-low ratings.
The $825 billion stimulus bill drafted by Democrats could be just the starting point for a liberal agenda, Rep. Wamp said.
“A lot of it is (Democrats’) taking advantage of the moment to increase the size of government,” he said. “It’s going to be followed by national health care, then global warming, then the highway bill. My fear is by the time we get through with the spending spree, the debt and deficit will be so high that the recession will be extended.”
Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., said Democrats are using President Obama’s popularity to ram through liberal ideas. He said he attended a House Energy and Commerce Committee session on the stimulus bill Thursday in which all Republican amendments except for one were voted down along party lines.
“The rhetoric we heard in committee was, ‘Well, this is what the president wants,’” Rep. Deal said.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said President Obama has the burden of heightened expectations from his supporters and cautioned the ride may not be perfect.
“In a way, he’s in an unfortunate position of people putting so many hopes on him,” Gov. Bredesen said. “The crises he’s facing are more multiheaded or diffuse than Lincoln or Roosevelt faced at the time that they came in, and as such, they’re harder to sort through.”