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State of disunion

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Rick Horowitz
January 28, 2010
“To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.”
--Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address
WASHINGTON, Any Minute Now—It’s the rare presidential speech that produces instant results—but then, most people would agree that Barack Obama is no ordinary presidential speaker.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that Mr. Obama’s State of the Union call for greater unity among Washington’s governing classes was met with nearly unanimous agreement from Democrats and Republicans alike: The president ought to mind his own business.


“As a former professor of constitutional law,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a news conference here this morning, “President Obama certainly knows about the separation of powers, and he needs to allow Congress to make its own decisions about how best to serve the American people.


“There are times—and this is one of them—when running for the hills is the only sensible response. In fact, running for the hills is what makes us Democrats.”


Mr. Reid took issue with the notion that controlling large majorities in both chambers of Congress gave his party a certain leverage when it came to passing important legislation.


“The idea that 59 is a bigger number than 41 is, frankly, pretty ludicrous,” Reid declared.


Meanwhile, the man in charge of those 41 Senate Republicans was equally quick to push back at Mr. Obama’s words.


“To say that just because we can block everything, we should have to propose something—I’ve never heard of such a thing,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.


“That’s just typical big-government Democrat thinking.”


Mr. McConnell insisted that, had the American people wanted the GOP to actually exercise “responsibility,” let alone “govern,” they would have made those wishes clear. Instead, he insisted, his party’s primary role was to try to tie the ambitious Obama agenda in knots.


“I just want to point out that ‘govern’ is three-quarters of the way to ‘McGovern.’ And the American people have made it very clear what they think about that.”


Reaction to the president’s prime-time address was every bit as hostile on the other side of the Capitol, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner held simultaneous news conferences to push back against what they clearly saw as White House pressure.


“I find it interesting,” said Mrs. Pelosi, “that if the voters are so sick and tired of how we conduct our business here in Congress, with lobbyists and everything, that they keep voting us back into office. That should tell you something, shouldn’t it?”


For Mr. Boehner’s part, meanwhile, the president’s pleas to end the rancor and the “schoolyard taunts” hardly seemed worth considering.


“It’s a long way from Capitol Hill to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” he explained. “And being that we’re on top of a hill, I think we get much better reception instead of static about what the American people really want, which is lower taxes, not government takeovers.”


Aides to Mr. Boehner were not available to translate his comments.


The president is expected spend much of this week on the road, promoting his plans to ease middle-class anxieties about the economy.


Congress will spend much of the week in Washington, doing whatever it is they do.


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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