Obama's Agenda Was Only Mostly Dead

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Senators have come up with compromises on immigration and gun control even though Washington was supposed to be paralyzed and President Obama's agenda was supposed to be pretty much dead, smothered by the fiscal cliff, the sequester, and the NRA.

"For the first time in a while, members of the two parties — at least some of them — appear to be talking about getting things done, even without the deadline of a manufactured crisis looming," The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty and Paul Kane marvel Thursday. "President Obama’s second-term agenda is actually chugging along at what by current standards counts as a brisk pace," New York's Jonathan Chait writes. Suddenly, House Speaker John Boehner has to figure out what he's going to do now that the "Senate has caught bipartisan fever," Politico's Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer report. "If he doesn’t move on Senate-passed gun and immigration compromises, the House risks looking like it is obstructing the will of the American people." Some House Republicans even complained to Roll Call that Obama is paying more attention to Senate Republicans and hasn't even invited them over to hang out recently.

This follows months of grim reports that everything is doomed. "President Barack Obama’s second-term agenda is in doubt," Politico's Jonathan Allen wrote on April 8. If gun legislation died, it "would cast a pall over the president's second-term agenda," The Washington Examiner's Brian Hughes wrote April 3. "Obama's Second Term Threatened by Sequester" was the headline The Fiscal Times put on a Reuters report March 3. The sequester, Reuters' Jeff Mason and Matt Spetalnick reported, "virtually guaranteed that fiscal issues would remain center stage in Washington for weeks, crowding out Obama’s proposals to reform immigration, tighten gun laws and raise the minimum wage." That story came two months after Reuters' John Whitesides's story, "Budget battles threaten to limit Obama's second-term agenda." Whitesides reported, "Obama has vowed to push ahead with other legislative priorities during the fiscal fight, but faces the likelihood that they will be elbowed aside in a fierce struggle with Republicans over approaching deadlines to raise the limit on federal borrowing, cut spending and fund government operations."

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So what happened? Boehner adopted a "Senate first" strategy, Politico reported in January, meaning he'd wait for the Senate to come up with compromises on big issues in order to put more pressure on Democrats. "That way, Republicans, the speaker feels, won’t end up paying the political price for things that may or may not ever get done." Jonathan Chait explains this spares House Republicans from looking like they're compromising, which polls show their voters do not want them to do. But senators are elected every six years, instead of every two as representatives are, and their states are generally more ideologically diverse than congressional districts. And the Senate is full of people who want to be president. Politico points out that the guys who unveiled a compromise on background checks Wednesday, Sens. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin, aren't up for reelection until 2016 and 2018, respectively.

It's not that Washington has abandoned all silliness. But some of the silliness gives us hope. Toomey, a Republican, would only agree to back the background check bill if he didn't have to stand next to Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, Roll Call reported. Schumer agreed. And while in November, all Republicans invited by Obama to a screening of Lincoln in the White House turned the invite down, this week, some Republicans are asking for more invites. "I read in the paper that the president has concerts at the White House and he’s enjoying that, Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner told Roll Call's David M. Drucker. "But I don’t know that anybody was invited to that."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.