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Obama lauds Congress for New START, ‘don’t ask,’ but laments Dream Act

After scoring some significant victories during the lame-duck congressional session, President Obama at a Wednesday news conference praised lawmakers for a spirit of bipartisanship that fueled what he called “the most productive post-election period we’ve had in decades.”

“We are not doomed to endless gridlock,” Obama said in his opening remarks. “My hope is that heading into the new year we can continue to heed the message of the American people and hold to a spirit of common purpose.”

Obama said that the election had dealt him a serious blow, but he noted that in the wake of GOP gains many Americans had expected a season of “more partisanship and gridlock.”

Instead, the lame-duck session was “a season of progress for American people. That’s a message I will take to heart in the coming year,” the president said.

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But the president acknowledged that he had not won everything he wanted.

“Maybe my biggest disappointment” was failure of the Dream Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. The president pledged to continue to seek immigration reform next year.

“I’m persistent,” Obama said. At a minimum, “we should be able to get the Dream Act done.”

Republicans and some key Democrats blocked passage of the Dream Act, designed to provide a path for citizenship for those illegal immigrants who came to the United States as youngsters and have moved on to college and the military.

Conservatives argued the Dream Act was the entry wedge into immigration reform, an issue that proved too contentious for this session of Congress.

Obama seemed upbeat at the Washington news conference which follows a tumultuous post-election congressional meeting during which the president negotiated with Republicans to get an extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. He also successfully lobbied for ratification of the New Start nuclear arms control agreement with Russia and for the repeal of the 17-year-old ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

Those legislative victories came at a price, however. The liberal wing of Obama’s own party was unhappy it had been shut out of the negotiations on the tax extension, which included households earning more than $250,000 a year. Obama, like many other Democrats, had opposed extending the cuts for the rich.

Obama has repeatedly defended the agreement with Republicans, arguing he could ill afford to allow the tax cuts for the middle class to expire.

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Obama again said he was concerned about the tax cuts for the rich.

“I don’t think over the long run we can afford a series of tax breaks for people who are doing very well and don’t need it,” Obama said.

The agreement with the GOP also extended unemployment benefits for 13 months and included a two percentage point cut in the payroll tax, from 6.2% to 4.2%. The cut was designed to help stimulate the economy by putting more cash into people’s paychecks.

His negotiation with Senate Republicans showed that Obama was reaching out to the minority in the Senate and to the new majority which will take over the House of Representatives in January after a November election he described as a “shellacking.” That reaching-out was in sharp contrast to the often frigid relations between the White House and Republicans during the regular congressional session.

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Obama also had significant Republican help on the new START agreement and on the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He praised those Republicans who supported him on both issues.

After the news conference, Obama was scheduled to leave for vacation in Hawaii.

michael.muskal@latimes.com


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