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Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel: Obama's bowling alone

If Republicans want a 2016 win, Congress can't live without Obama.

Today: The next two years

BOB: President Obama unveiled his long-awaited undocumented immigrant executive order last week. We'll still be talking about it next year. The order allows up to 5 million people to avoid deportation and secure work documents. This will let them pay taxes and, hopefully, have a chance to get in the back of the line for citizenship at some point. There have been attempts at comprehensive immigration legislation, including a bill that was approved by a Democratic Senate, which Republican House leaders blocked.

CAL: Because that bill gave little attention to border security.

BOB: The president's initiative does strengthen border security and a lot more. Many of those granted a reprieve from deportation in the president's executive order are parents of children who were born legally in this country. It covers additional young people under the president's "DREAM" initiative, which allowed immigrant children who were successful in school or the military to remain here. Republicans immediately reacted angrily.

CAL: I don't believe he is serious about border security, Bob, or it would have been done when Democrats controlled Congress for two years, or for that matter by previous Republican and Democratic administrations. But you're right. Opposition is not a policy. The new Republican Congress should pass legislation that puts sealing the border first. I also would include a provision denying the right to vote to anyone who broke our laws to get here for 20 years. Then we would find out the real motivation of the president and his fellow Democrats.

BOB: Most constitutional lawyers think Obama is on firm ground with his executive orders. Many presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, issued executive orders that permitted undocumented immigrants to stay.

CAL: Bush's decision, like those of other presidents, wasn't as controversial because he acted after Congress passed legislation. My concern is that our current president has so poisoned the waters after the recent election that little will get done for two years as each party positions itself for the crucial 2016 election. This is so unnecessary. A humble spirit after the shellacking Democrats took might have created opportunities for true bipartisanship and compromise. Clearly the election was a repudiation of many of the president's policies — from Obamacare to immigration. There is no other way to spin it.

BOB: There is no question that the executive orders will have a negative effect on negotiations on other issues with the Republican Congress. If Republicans and the president spend two years doing nothing, it would be a disaster for both. But Republicans have to face the voters in two years. Obama does not.

CAL: To haul out a cliché: It takes two to tango, Bob. Now Obama risks being the obstructionist. If he vetoes bills passed by the new Republican Congress, or if Senate Democrats filibuster every piece of legislation introduced by Republicans, he and they will be the ones seen to be standing in the way of progress. The president once said "elections matter." This one mattered a lot. The president should stop behaving like an emperor and start realizing the Constitution established three branches of government to serve as a check on each other.

BOB: The answer to this potential disastrous gridlock is for the president and the Congress to agree on a few big things to negotiate. There should be immigration reform legislation to replace Obama's executive order and that could get done. Both sides agree the current immigration situation is unsustainable. If that is accomplished as the first order of business in the new Congress, the current anger between both sides could be cooled down enough to try two or three big things in the remaining two years of President Obama's term in office.

CAL: You have a point, but if the president was interested in bipartisanship, he would have waited until after the new Congress convenes. These executive orders look like an attempt to change the subject from the election. The question is, will the president sign any legislation that doesn't meet his requirements? What else do you think the two parties could agree on?

BOB: Two other issues provide both sides with political gain. One is Obamacare. Parts of the law need to be changed. Whether it's fixing the employer mandate formula, selling policies across state lines or tort reform, the current law could be strengthened. Then there's corporate tax reform, which would lower tax rates if corporations would take money that they currently hoard overseas subject to no U.S. taxes and bring it back home to be taxed, with the tax revenue to be used for job creation. Both sides have clamored for tax reform for decades. Now is their chance.

CAL: I'm with you on those. Now if we can just get the two parties together. It would be refreshing to see them put unemployed or underemployed U.S. citizens and the interests of the country first, instead of their political careers and campaign contributors.

Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.

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Posted: November 27, 2014 Thursday 06:04 AM