President Barack Obama kept himself apart from the deliberations of the supercommittee on deficit reduction, apparently believing from the get-go that the panel would fail. Now the question is whether his tactics will allow him to run for re-election against a “do-nothing” Congress — a successful strategy for Harry Truman in 1948 — or will allow Republicans to brand Obama as a do-nothing president, Politico
Obama took it on the chin over the summer when he engaged in talks on a grand deficit bargain with House Speaker John Boehner, only to see those talks fail when conservative Republicans wouldn’t back Boehner’s concessions. So Obama didn’t want to again expend political capital on doomed negotiations. And with the public’s approval of Congress in single digits, he probably believes Congress will suffer more from the supercommittee’s failure than he does.
To some extent, the big brouhaha over the panel’s demise may be much ado about nothing outside Washington.
In a Politico-George Washington University poll taken this month, 50 percent of registered likely voters said they’re not at all familiar with the supercommittee. And even when the respondents were made aware of what the panel is all about, almost 70 percent of respondents said the panel would fail.
“There’s a sense that this is just another thing that Congress screwed up, that Congress sucks and everybody hates it,” an Obama campaign official told Politico. “I don’t think it touches him because the supercommittee is basically a process point . . . But if the [stock] market really tanks and it hits people’s 401ks, then it will resonate with voters and become dangerous for Obama.”
The president also makes himself vulnerable to charges that he has abandoned his leadership responsibilities. And that criticism isn’t coming just from Republicans.
“The president and the leadership of Congress could have cut a deal that the committee would have approved,” Democratic budget expert Alice Rivlin told Politico. “I don’t think it is the last chance for something to happen, but it’s a huge missed opportunity. No committee is going to have this power again.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, also chided Obama. “It’s the chief executive’s job to bring people together and to provide leadership. I don’t see that happening,” he said in a news conference. Bloomberg called the supercommittee’s failure “a damning indictment of Washington’s ability to govern this country.”
Obama’s defense is that he offered a budget deficit reduction plan and Republicans wouldn’t listen. And he is making it clear that he will strongly resist any effort by Congress to avoid the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that will be triggered by the supercommittee’s collapse.
“One way or another, we will be trimming the deficit by a total of at least $2.2 trillion [including $1 trillion in cuts already approved during the summer] over the next 10 years,” Obama said after the supercommittee’s meltdown. “There will be no easy off ramps on this one.”
Republicans are fighting back against Obama. “Americans expect their president to be a leader — not a calculating politician taking a back seat so he can get reelected,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski told Politico.
“The longer Obama punts on important issues, the more Americans will start questioning whether he’s the same president they were sold in 2008. Whether it’s the debt commission, his budget or the supercommittee, President Obama has either demonstrated the wrong leadership or no leadership at all.”
Ironically enough, while Obama prepares to run against Congress, he will need its help in passing a bill to extend a payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance and tax breaks for business and the middle class.
In addition, Obama could pay a political price for the spending cuts triggered by the supercommittee’s meltdown. The Defense Department may face as much as $500 billion in cuts. And Democratic favorites such as Head Start, student college loans, and Medicare also face reductions. Those aren’t changes Obama will enjoy defending as he runs for re-election.
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