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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Big gulp

Slurpee Summit can't overcome hard-to-swallow measures ahead

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 18, 2010

First came the shellacking. Then the Slurpee Summit. The first meeting between President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders after mid-term elections on Nov. 30 was so named because Obama, before the election shellacking, had accused Republicans of standing around and drinking Slurpees.

And true to the label, Obama and Republicans emerged from the private, two-hour White House meeting without much of substance.

Obama bemoaned a political climate where "both sides come to the table. They read their talking points. Then they head out to the microphones, trying to win the news cycle instead of solving problems." Ironically, the president described what had just happened.

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The only decision to emerge from the meeting was an agreement to form yet another bipartisan working group-this time to look at tax cuts.

Back on Capitol Hill, Democrats seemed determined to leave their liberal stamp on this legislative year, despite their rejection by voters-loading down this congressional session's final weeks with transparent attempts to court their base.

This push included attempts to force Senate votes on the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and on the DREAM Act, which would give U.S. citizenship to certain children of illegal immigrants. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid survived a tough reelection fight in Nevada by promising supporters that he would bring these measures up for votes in the abbreviated session.

Those who favor overturning the ban on gays openly serving in the military seized on a Nov. 30 Pentagon study on the long-standing policy. They heralded the report for suggesting that a majority of service members would support a change. But the 70 percent figure cited also includes those who said they had mixed feelings.

Buried in the nine-month report: Nearly 50 percent of combat forces are concerned about serving with openly gay comrades-a number that climbs to almost 60 percent of those serving in specialized frontline units.

Republicans like Sen. John McCain, a former Navy combat pilot, question the Pentagon's findings because the report focused on how to implement a repeal-not on whether a repeal should happen.

Political maneuvering on other issues maintained a rapid pace: As Senate Republicans pushed to secure an agreement to extend temporarily the expiring Bush tax cuts for everybody, Democrats enjoyed their last days controlling the House by forcing a symbolic vote to make the cuts permanent for the middle class only. But it is the tightly divided Senate where the power lies during this lame duck session, and Republicans seemed to gain the tax cut upper hand by leveraging the still not ratified START Treaty. Obama has said his top foreign policy priority is this arms treaty with Russia to reduce each nation's nuclear warheads by up to 30 percent.

All 42 GOP Senators signed a Dec. 1 letter to Reid, vowing to oppose moving forward with any legislation that does not deal with funding the government or with the expiring Bush tax cuts. This pledge dims Democrats' hopes to end the year with a liberal bang. "There's a reason why we have Democrats and Republicans," said future House Speaker John Boehner. "We believe in different things about the appropriate role of the federal government."

A voter mandate favoring the GOP becomes real in January. If this Congress fails to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, then expect the first bill introduced in the new Republican-led House to be legislation making the cuts permanent. If a tax agreement can somehow be hammered out this month, then House Resolution No. 1 will be a measure to repeal Obamacare.

"Last month, the American people issued their verdict on the Democrats' priorities," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "We need to show the American people that we care more about them and their ability to pay their bills than we do about the special interests' legislative Christmas-list."

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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