There are plenty of places Obama could find common ground with the GOP

White House/Pete Souza

President Barack Obama talks with Congressional leaders prior to the Rosa Parks statue unveiling ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2013. Pictured, from left, are: Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.; Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; and House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Article Highlights

  • There are many areas in which leadership by the president could foster bipartisan consensus & lead to accomplishments.

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  • Issues ripe for presidential leadership include immigration reform, & housing finance reform.

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  • The White House these days seems to be inhabited by the campaigner in chief.

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Editor's note: This article originally appeared in US News & World Report's Debate Club in response to the question: Has Obama exercised enough leadership in dealing with Republicans in Congress?

While it is hard to expect President Obama and congressional Republicans to bridge their differences on taxes and spending anytime soon, there are a host of other areas in which leadership by the president could foster bipartisan consensus and lead to substantive accomplishments. Issues ripe for presidential leadership include immigration reform, housing finance reform, energy policy, and securing new trade agreements. Progress in these areas would have numerous beneficial impacts.

Immigration: A bipartisan coalition exists for immigration reform that both improves businesses' ability to hire skilled workers, including students who finish a degree in the United States, and addresses the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country. President Obama has vacillated between hanging back to allow Congress to work and occasionally looking to use the issue as a political wedge. A choice to engage constructively with congressional Republicans could hasten immigration reform.

Housing finance reform: Nine out of 10 mortgages are now funded by the federal government, exposing taxpayers to risk and distorting the allocation of capital. A bipartisan reform would bring in private investors to take risks on housing, but with the government as a secondary backstop to ensure that families can get mortgages across market conditions. President Obama could move this along by putting forward a specific proposal.

Energy policy: New "fracking" technology promises to boost oil and natural gas production, driving down U.S. energy prices and boosting our energy independence. A bipartisan approach would let exploration proceed while ensuring strict environmental protections. President Obama seems ready to take a first step toward a new energy future by approving the Keystone XL pipeline to transport new oil supplies from Canada and the upper U.S. Midwest into the U.S. distribution system.

Trade opening: Mr. Obama will find bipartisan support if he follows through on his promises in the recent State of the Union address to boost our trade relations with Europe and Japan. This would help our economy and those of our key allies.

The White House these days seems to be inhabited by the campaigner in chief. But much is possible if Mr. Obama were to switch to governing by looking to find common ground with Republicans. Leadership by the president in dealing with congressional Republicans is needed.

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About the Author


  • Phillip Swagel, an economist and academic, was assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department from 2006 to 2009, where he was responsible for analysis on a wide range of economic issues, including policies relating to the financial crisis and the Troubled Asset Relief Program. He has also served as chief of staff and senior economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers and as an economist at the Federal Reserve Board and the International Monetary Fund. He is concurrently a professor of international economics at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy.  He has previously taught at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and Georgetown University. Mr. Swagel works on both domestic and international economic issues at AEI.  His research topics include financial markets reform, international trade policy, and the role of China in the global economy.

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