Expectations low as Obama, House Speaker Paul Ryan meet at last

Posted at 3:22 PM, Feb 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-02 15:22:24-05

With each of their parties engrossed in the heat of presidential primary season, President Barack Obama and House Speaker Paul Ryan were set to meet Tuesday, even as prospects for new bipartisan agreement appear to diminish by the day.

It’s the first time Obama will meet with Ryan in his new role, which he assumed at the end of October, though the two men have a history together. They sparred over fiscal matters when Ryan headed the House Budget Committee, and competed on the campaign trail during Ryan’s stint as the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee.

Ryan and Obama will speak one-on-one during lunch at the White House on Tuesday, which follows a sit-down that also includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The lag in setting up a formal meeting reflects the low expectations for the upcoming legislative year, which will be dominated largely by the presidential election. Conservative lawmakers seeking reelection are likely to become less inclined to cooperate with the White House as Election Day approaches.

With conservative outsiders dominating the Republican presidential field, Ryan and McConnell have shown little inclination for compromise with the White House lest they appear to be siding with the party’s chief rival. Even on an area of agreement — the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal — McConnell has suggested ratification be delayed until after the election to avoid political entanglement.

Illustrating the deep splits between the White House and Congress: when Ryan returns from the White House on Tuesday, he’ll preside over a veto override attempt on a measure that repeals Obama’s signature health care law.

Of the items that remain on Obama’s governing agenda, most appear dead on Capitol Hill, including passing comprehensive immigration reform, advancing new gun control laws and closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

There are some areas of potential compromise, according to both sides. Criminal justice reform, an issue on which Obama has sought the partnership of the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, appears to have the best chances of materializing.

But on other areas the White House insists will be on the agenda Tuesday — including passing new war authorization for the fight against ISIS — deep divides persist between the parties, making movement unlikely.