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Can Obama, GOP get anything done?Try it

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SEWANEE, Tenn. -- As I listened to retired Archbishop Robin Eames reflect on the reconciliation of Northern Ireland, I thought, "Who's going to reconcile the United States?"

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Eames, 72, received an honorary doctor of divinity degree at the University of the South here after a career ministering to and then mediating between warring Protestants and Catholics.

He described the agony of presiding over funerals for terror victims and the satisfaction of witnessing the destruction of tons of weapons amassed by the Irish Republican Army and Protestant paramilitaries. He urged that reconciliation be "the theme of this generation."

In the grand gothic Sewanee chapel, he made both sweeping and eloquent appeals to alleviate hatreds ("be angels of reconciliation") and gave some advice gained from experience -- "walk side by side with your enemies ... listen to where they are coming from ... build relationships."

Listening to this peacemaker -- and feeling utterly humbled to be getting an honorary degree in his company -- I couldn't help but think: We need a lot of reconciliation in Washington, D.C.

Nobody is setting off bombs here, but people in the country are suffering--not 10 percent, but 17.3 percent don't have jobs, counting those who have quit looking -- and the nation's leaders are doing nothing, locked up in what amounts to sectarian combat.

The next generation will suffer even more, burdened by debts piled on them by their elders -- not $6 trillion more over the next 10 years, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office, but realistically more like $15 trillion, according to the nonpartisan Concord Coalition.

And, the Heritage Foundation estimates, federal debt in 2020 could be as much as $22 trillion, 98 percent of gross domestic product, with interest on it costing $1 trillion, a quarter of the federal budget.

In spite of this, the Senate couldn't muster 60 votes to establish a bipartisan commission to control deficits. Republicans say they'll boycott a commission appointed by President Barack Obama.

The parties are at war about everything, so nothing is being done about 45 million people who lack health insurance, our dangerous and expensive reliance on foreign oil and banks that make huge profits but don't lend.

I'm writing this before Obama gives his State of the Union speech, but likely as not he'll renew his appeal for bipartisanship--the major theme of his presidential campaign, dropped in the face of united Republican opposition to his programs.

Republicans claim he merely served them drinks but never listened to their ideas, and left bill writing to ultra-partisans like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who disdains them.

Even now, Pelosi is trying to use the budget reconciliation process to force through her party's unpopular health care plan--a move sure to create a political conflagration.

It's time for Obama to act like he really means it about bipartisanship--perhaps, one Republican suggested, inviting GOP leaders up to Camp David for the weekend, for sure "treating them like patriots, not pariahs."

Even though Democrats love to characterize Republicans as the "party of no," the fact is that they have put forward alternative ideas on most every issue facing Congress in 2009.

Obama apparently is finally adopting some of them as part of his jobs package -- such as cancellation of capital gains taxes for small business and bigger tax breaks for businesses investing in new equipment.

When Democrats passed their stimulus package containing tax rebates of $800 per couple (regardless of income), Republicans proposed cutting the bottom tax rate from 10 percent to 5 percent and the next highest rate from 15 percent to 10 -- worth up to $3,200 in savings.

Now, House Republicans are advocating a freeze on new regulations expected to have an economic cost, cancellation of expected tax increases until unemployment is back to 5 percent, aid to small banks, elimination of taxes on unemployment benefits and the freeze on domestic discretionary spending that Obama is also proposing.

In an interview with National Public Radio, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, professed himself entirely open to policy negotiations across the board and especially on jobs.

Did he mean it? Republicans may think they are on the way to victory by opposing Obama, but the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 52 percent of voters have positive attitudes about Obama, 39 about the Democratic Party and only 32 percent about the GOP.

Who's to blame for nothing getting done in Washington? Twenty-seven percent blame Obama; 41 percent, Democrats in Congress; and 48 percent, the GOP.

The poll shows that 93 percent think there's too much partisan bickering. Sixty-one percent think Democrats are trying to do too much without bipartisanship and 61 percent think Republicans are just trying to block Democratic legislation.

It's time to start heeding Archbishop Eames -- "walk side by side with your ene-my ... listen to where they're coming from ... build rela-tionships." There's no other way to get anything done.

Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.

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