No breaking of bread for Obama

The president, contrary to earlier White House assertions that he would line up with his plate at the Blair House buffet, has gone back to the White House for the lunch break.

Sure, he is the leader of the free world and has a few pressing issues on his (metaphorical) plate, but if healthcare is as important and urgent as he says it is, couldn’t the president have had an informal nosh break between the healthcare battles?

After all, as Bill Galston, who advised President Bill Clinton on domestic issues, told me before the summit: “Breaking bread together is the traditional sign of a truce.”

The president is also ignoring the advice of Evan Bayh, the centrist Indiana Democrat who said he was quitting at the next election because of the increased partisanship in Washington. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Mr Bayh underlined the importance of trying to broker agreement over meals, a tactic that is certainly alive and well in the rest of Washington, as anyone who visits Tosca at 1 o’clock on a weekday will know.

“It shouldn’t take a constitutional crisis or an attack on the nation to create honest dialogue in the Senate. Let’s start with a simple proposal: why not have a monthly lunch of all 100 senators? Every week, the parties already meet for a caucus lunch. Democrats gather in one room, Republicans in another, and no bipartisan interaction takes place. With a monthly lunch of all senators, we could pick a topic and have each side make a brief presentation followed by questions and answers. Listening to one another, absent the posturing and public talking points, could only promote greater understanding, which is necessary to real progress.”

“No drama Obama” appeared to be losing his famous cool on Thursday, looking visibly annoyed before the lunch break.

As he walked back to the White House, he told reporters: “I don’t know if it’s interesting watching it on TV, but it’s interesting being a part of it.”

“I think we’re establishing that there are actually some areas of real agreement,” he said in front of the White House gates. “And we’re starting to focus on what the real disagreements are. If you look at the issue of how much government should be involved, the argument that the Republicans are making really isn’t that this is a government takeover of health care but rather that… we’re regulating the insurance market too much. And that’s a legitimate philosophical disagreement. We’ll hopefully be able to explore it a little more in the afternoon.”

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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