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Obama and Boehner: Partisan Agenda or Bipartisan Duet?

Voters want politicians to start solving problems

Health care

Many voters are skeptical of Obama's health care reform, which Republicans derisively call "Obamacare." House Republicans already voted to repeal it, though the Senate refused to go along. Meanwhile, Republicans hope courts will upend the law or dismantle it piecemeal. Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker expects Republicans to hold countless hearings and limit spending needed to implement the law. "I think they are hoping they can administer a death of a thousand cuts to health insurance reform," he says.

Winston says Boehner's approach will be to give wide discretion to House committees. Republicans there may pass malpractice reform, allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines and help small businesses with buying health insurance.

Partisanship

"Most Americans would want a government that can cooperate to solve problems," Rother says. "But you do have a very basic difference of opinion on how to solve those problems." Boehner adviser Winston doesn't downplay the difficulty of managing the factions of the Republican Party. "You're managing a majority coalition, and that's just really hard."

But he agrees with Hastert that the performance of a divided government under President Clinton and a Republican Congress is proof that major compromises can be reached. During that era, the economy grew, unemployment went down, the budget was balanced and the welfare system was reformed. "This is a different formula on Capitol Hill," Hastert says. "If [Obama] wants to get anything done, he has to work within that formula."

Whether that sort of success can be replicated will be largely a function of whether Obama and Boehner can dance to the same tune.

Tamara Lytle is a former Washington bureau chief for the Orlando Sentinel.

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