Friday, February 25, 2011

Obama, once again outsourcing leadership to Harry Reid

While Republicans and Democrats are struggling to keep the government from shutting down, President Obama has other things on his mind. Sure there is the spreading conflagration in the Middle East, but he had to host a party to celebrate the Motown sound.

The continuing resolution which has been funding our government since the Democrats didn't bother even trying to pass a budget last year when they had overwhelming control of the government is set to expire next week. The House Republicans want to pass a new continuing resolution but are adamant that such a CR should contain significant spending cuts. The Democrats in the Senate were all set to portray the Republicans as modern-day Scrooges who are going to take away precious government programs. At such an impasse, people have been talking government shutdown. Democrats are hoping that such threats would cow Republicans and bring back memories of Bill Clinton staring down Newt Gingrich.

But unlike 1995, Barack Obama is not out there fighting for preserving the status quo. Instead he's done the same thing that he has done the first two years of his presidency. He has outsourced the fight to Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats. Just like with the stimulus bill and the health care bill, he is not leading but hoping to stay out of the fray and reap political benefits.
President Obama has been able to keep the partisan battle over a government shutdown at arm’s length, reaping the political benefits of a Senate majority that President Clinton didn’t have in 1995.

With a temporary measure to fund the government through March 4 set to expire, Republican and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have engaged in an intense back-and-forth over spending cuts and which party is trying to pave the way for a shuttered federal government.

All the while, the White House has stayed somewhat above the fray, stressing that it does not believe a shutdown will occur but that contingency plans are in place, if necessary.

That approach stands in stark contrast to the run-up to the shutdowns that occurred during Clinton’s first term, when the 42nd president was the face of Democratic negotiations with Republican leaders, including then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (Kan.).

This time around, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have held a handful of press availabilities to go after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and, more pointedly, House GOP freshman members. Schumer, who heads the messaging operation for the Senate Democrats, has suggested that the new conservative members want a government shutdown.

Obama, meanwhile, has vowed to veto the House GOP’s spending bill, which calls for $61 billion in cuts. But he and his administration have adopted a measured tone, and not issued ultimatums or attacked Boehner or the new Tea Party lawmakers.

The White House has kept to its talking points and refrained from generating much news on a possible shutdown.
Such brave leadership. Aren't we all inspired by the sight of the President of the United States letting the Senate Democrats fight the battle while he tries to keep his hands clean and his chin raised above the fray.

However, the Senate Democrats under Harry Reid are a frail reed on which to depend. So far they've staked out the ground firmly in favor of not making any cuts in government spending.
For now, Obama is content to let lawmakers snipe at each other, with a little more than a week before the March 4 shutdown deadline.

After reports surfaced on the House Republicans’ plan to craft a two-week spending measure that would cut $4 billion, a Reid spokesman summarily rejected the idea, calling it “nothing more than the same extreme package the House already handed the Senate, just with a different bow.”

The GOP counterpunch came soon thereafter. A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) circulated an e-mailed release noting that the Senate had not seen the Republican proposal, “making clear that Sen. Reid’s current position is that a government shutdown is preferable to cutting a single penny in spending.”
And now Reid is signaling that perhaps the Senate Democrats are willing to make some cuts themselves. Who knows what they will come up with. But one thing we do know - President Obama will try to pretend that he is above the fray. But watch for campaign ads next year to tell us what a leader he is. The ads just won't tell us that he leads by letting Harry Reid do his dirty work.