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Compromise is Critical Part of Obama’s Agenda

Date: Friday, March 04, 2011, 6:20 am By: Michael H. Cottman –

For President Barack Obama, the notion of compromising with Republicans has become a gradual, yet critical, part of his political agenda.

On Friday, for example, Obama will share the stage with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to talk about education reform at predominantly black Miami Central High School. Although Bush is a moderate Republican, Obama is signaling to the GOP leadership that they share some common interests.

The president, according to the White House, will discuss how winning the future in education will require investments that promote a shared responsibility and focus on achieving results. Central, chronically one of Miami’s lowest achieving schools, where more than 80 percent of its students are African-American, has been engaged in rigorous turnaround work and has seen some early successes.

Last year, the Department of Education awarded states $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding and Florida received $170.2 million. The state, in turn, awarded the Miami-Dade School District nearly $14 million to turn around its 19 persistently lowest achieving schools.

Miami Central High was engaged in implementing reforms before receiving federal SIG funds and successfully improved its scores from an “F” to a “D” on the state’s report card two years ago and then from a “D” to a “C” last year. Achievement at the school has improved by 40 points in writing and over 60 points in math, and the school has improved its graduation rate over the past five years from 36 to 63 percent.

Obama’s appearance with Bush comes two days after Republicans won a preliminary battle in their fight to cut government spending by pushing $4 billion in cuts through Congress that halts the possibility of a government shutdown for two weeks. Republicans are challenging the fiscal wisdom of Obama’s $3.73 trillion budget for 2012, a record $1.65 trillion deficit this year, falling to $1.1 trillion next year and easing thereafter.

“The president punted on the budget, he punted on the deficit,” Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, told reporters. “That’s not leadership; that’s an abdication of leadership.”

But the president isn’t firing back. He’s all about being conciliatory these days, and in the spirit of compromise, Obama dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to find “common ground” with Republicans and start negotiating a long-term deal beginning Thursday.

And this is where it could get ugly.

Only time will tell if these negotiations will be successful because there is a history of distrust on both sides, and Republicans are bent on slashing spending, even if it jeopardizes critical social programs that benefit many lower-income Americans.

“I’m pleased that Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together and passed a plan that will cut spending and keep the government running for the next two weeks,” Obama said, “but we cannot keep doing business this way. Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy.”

Here’s where the rubber hits the road: Obama wants to increase spending for education and Bush, a moderate, supports education initiatives like No Child Left Behind but in Washington. GOP leaders are pressing Obama to cut more and cut often. But some Democrats say privately that Obama has gone too far to appease Republicans.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, (D-Mo.) the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, criticized Obama’s proposed cuts in community development. Cleaver’s point is noteworthy because the Obama administration has vowed to fully support a range of initiatives in urban centers – transportation, infrastructure, housing and crime prevention – part of a broader, ambitious plan to revitalize the nation’s inner cities.

Meanwhile, the White House is hoping that Obama’s joint photo-ops with Republicans like Bush will resonate with other GOP leaders who are poised to oppose the president at every turn. Republicans are championing $61 billion in cuts to hundreds of programs for the remaining seven months of this federal fiscal year.

But there was some good news this week: The number of Americans requesting unemployment benefits last week plunged to a nearly three-year low, bolstering hopes that companies will expand hiring this year. The government said Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits fell by 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 368,000.

Obama has been traveling the country in recent weeks talking up his economic vision and trying to reassure Americans that the economy is improving. But the president’s goodwill message has been hampered by the sluggish response from business owners, who are skeptical about hiring too many employees too soon.

News of the substantial drop in unemployment benefit applications could help Obama’s case, but it won’t be enough to keep Republicans from waging an outright war over the president’s budget – especially a war the GOP feels confident it can win.

At least Obama is sticking to his guns. He is not wavering on his commitment to fund a range of education initiatives, and black high schools like Miami Central need the president’s steadfast support.

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