New ideas seem harder than ever to find in Washington. And the nation's political leaders, trying to pacify their base voters, are re-fighting many battles of the past with the same arguments they have used for more than a generation.
President Barack Obama is returning to the old-time religion of the Democratic party. This week, his aides said the administration's 2015 budget plan will no longer offer to reduce benefit increases for Social Security and other federal social programs. This means the administration is abandoning hope that Republicans will use these proposed reductions as a springboard for reaching a comprehensive agreement on spending and taxes. "Unfortunately, Republicans refused to even consider the possibility of raising some revenue," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. "That is an unfortunate policy choice that Republicans themselves have made."
White House officials now say Obama will call for $56 billion in new spending, in large part for social programs, paid for by unspecified spending "reforms" and closing tax loopholes.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama's latest budget plan is a "non-starter" in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. "This reaffirms what has become all too apparent: The president has no interest in doing anything, even modest, to address our looming debt crisis," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck told reporters. "... With three years left in office, it seems the president is already throwing in the towel."
This stalemate is very familiar. It has been at the heart of Washington politics and policymaking for years. The Democrats call for higher taxes on the rich and big corporations, and increases in social programs. The Republicans call for lower taxes or holding the line on taxes, and cuts in social programs.
But the familiar battle lines are also forming on other issues as the Democrats and the Republicans prepare for the midterm elections this November. Each side is catering to its core constituencies. Each party's leaders consider this a more reliable strategy in the midterms when voter turnout is lower than in presidential election years, instead of reaching out to centrists or voters in the middle.
This week, White House officials marked the fifth anniversary of passage of Obama's $787 billion "stimulus' bill by arguing that it helped to avoid a depression and lifted the economy. In a replay of the arguments from 2009, Republican leaders said the law was in large part a waste of taxpayers' money and didn't create enough jobs.
Trade is another familiar fault line. Obama wants Congress to approve new trade pacts with Asian and European nations, but he is running into the same obstacles that have blocked action on these deals before. A big problem is that many fellow Democrats oppose the deals, as they have for years, arguing that they hurt American workers and don't provide enough environmental safeguards. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters this week that the trade agreements would enable the United States to tap into economic growth abroad and would at the same time "protect American workers and protect the environment, and that's why we think it's in the best interest of the United States." But there are signs that the administration won't aggressively push the deals this year in order to maintain Democratic unity
On immigration, the divisions are similarly familiar. Democrats want to pass a major immigration bill to help people who entered the United States illegally, but many conservatives see this as a form of amnesty that they vigorously oppose. These argument have been posed for many years.
Of course, Obama and the Democrats are still defending his Affordable Care Act, the president's signature achievement from his first term. Republicans attack it, as they have from the start.
It's part of the overall picture that is turning off many voters: hidebound arguments, little willingness to compromise and few new ideas.