They proved the other night that they can sit together nicely for a couple of hours
Now comes the real test for members of Congress.
Can they also work together?
More particularly, can our lawmakers suppress their ideological differences long enough to devise legislative compromises that benefit the nation, even at the risk of a painful blow to their partisan credentials?
Barack Obama certainly isn't the first president to plead for civility
and cooperation during his first state of the union speech after
watching his party lose considerable clout in the previous election.
The platitudes coming from Republicans and Democrats sound eerily familiar, too.
Our cynicism notwithstanding, the historical record gives us reason to
believe that the "crossing of the aisle" during President Obama's
address last week was more than symbolic.
After the GOP's victory in 1994, for instance, the relationship between
the Republicans and Democratic president Bill Clinton produced, among
other noteworthy achievements, real reform in the welfare system.
The comparison isn't perfect, of course.
In 1995 the GOP had majorities in both the House and Senate. Today, Congress is divided.
Clinton and the 1995 Congress didn't have two wars to worry about
either, or an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent (the rate in January
1995, by the way, was 5.7 percent).
Besides which, Clinton had failed where Obama succeeded - in passing a major healthcare overhaul.
Whatever you think about Obamacare - we're withholding final judgment,
as much of the law hasn't taken effect - the GOP's eagerness to repeal
it, as the House already has voted to do, and the Democrats' dogged
defense, run counter to the brand of congenial debate everyone purports
All things considered, we expect progress, but of a modest sort.
Obama vowed to veto any spending bills larded with earmarks; Congress
ought to have the votes to send him only pork-free proposals.
Some Republicans, including Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, branded the
president's proposal to freeze discretionary domestic spending for five
years as nothing more than locking in the spendthrift ways of the
But even the most committed deficit hawks will have to concede that
spending the same amount as last year is better than spending more.
Obama's calls for cutting corporate taxes and negotiating trade deals should resonate with the GOP as well.
The sad reality, of course, is that those measures are akin to tossing
a few wads of cash into the yawning fiscal chasm that our gluttony has
To truly begin to fill that space we'll need the equivalent of a fleet of tankers, each packed to the gunwales with greenbacks.
Loading that fleet will require significant cuts in some, and possibly all, of America's entitlement programs.
For all their bravado, we're not sure even the stingiest Republicans
have the stomach to put their budget-slashing pens to those sacred
We're less certain still that they have the votes.
To his credit, Obama chose a fitting analogy to emphasize how serious
the situation is, calling this "our generation's Sputnik moment."
Trouble is, beating the Soviets to the moon, when we were able to
essentially hand our best scientists a blank check, might seem simple
compared to our current challenge.
We have to learn how to stop writing checks.
And find a pair of scissors to cut up our credit cards.