Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

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?

Who knows?

We don't.

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

to want.

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

recent past.

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.