Obama’s leap of faith

OBAMA’S LEAP OF FAITH…. The president-elect sat down with bipartisan congressional leadership on the Hill yesterday, and made a pitch for an economic recovery package. Despite significant Democratic majorities in both chambers, Barack Obama gave every indication of taking Republican concerns seriously.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, argued that public dissatisfaction with the Troubled Asset Relief Program money to help stabilize the nation’s financial systems and the way it was rammed through the Congress demands more transparency and accountability with the stimulus bill.

“I agree with you,” the President-elect said, adding later that he would “demand complete transparency and accountability in doing it.”

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Vir., suggested said the bill should be put on the Internet a week before Congress votes on it.

Mr. Obama smiled and said something along the lines of, “maybe if I was better at faking it , I’d say, ‘Great idea — we’ll take you up on that.’ But we’ve actually talked about this idea.”

Incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told GOP leaders about creating an online app in which every stimulus program would be searchable, with reports on whether the initiative goes over budget, whether it’s working, and whether it’s creating jobs. Obama, knowing how important credit is to lawmakers, told the Republicans, “Tell you what, we’ll still call it the Cantor idea.”

Everyone was all smiles, and the Times noted that Republicans “praised Mr. Obama’s willingness to hear their ideas, which is something they have often felt did not take place under President Bush.”

It occurs to me, reading over the reports of Obama’s time on the Hill, that the president-elect not only places a strong emphasis on creating proposals with bipartisan support, but seems to genuinely believe he can negotiate with the congressional minority in good faith.

Obama may very well be right, but I’m not sure where this confidence comes from. He’s moving forward under the assumption that Republicans want to work with him, are willing to compromise, and stand ready to put national interests in the midst of a crisis ahead of partisan concerns. When Obama talked during the campaign about a “new” kind of politics, premised on the notion that people can be brought together with a sense of common purpose, he apparently meant it.

But the approach is not only a leap of faith — trusting the character of angry far-right Republicans who see merit in Hoover’s economic policies — it also comes with considerable risk. For the last 15 years or so, Democratic efforts to work with Republicans in good faith have been routinely punished.

Obama’s instincts have a strong track record, but any discussion premised on the notion that congressional Republicans are credible negotiators who take policy seriously is inherently suspect. Indeed, even yesterday, Obama’s efforts notwithstanding, GOP leaders, despite having very little leverage, complained the incoming administration wants to spend too much and cut taxes too little.

I hope Obama knows what he’s doing. It’s only the global economy on the line.