Just seven months into his term -- and 14 months before the 2010 midterm election -- and could it be, is President Obama already a lame duck?
With his passive management style -- which inevitably led to overreaching and heavy-handedness by Congressional Democrats Obama has made himself largely irrelevant on many of the issues he ran on, from health care "reform" to "resetting" our foreign relations. Here are seven signs that Obama's political suasion is waning:
1. On the heels of Obama's tacit DNR on the end-of-life death panels in the Senate Finance Committee's health care "reform" proposal, the administration signaled that it is also willing to bury what has always been a key element of the president's plans for healthcare "reform"(watch this video) -- a government financed "public option" to compete with (and eventually drive out of business) private health insurers. Bowing to opposition from Republicans in both houses of Congress, and fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the administration's fall-back position would be to support creation of consumer-owned nonprofit health insurance cooperatives. But the compromise is anathema to House Dems and Obama's liberal base, who vowed to fight to the bitter end for the public option. Either way, it's a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation for Obama (and we saw Sebelieus backtrack on Tuesday) and demonstrates how completely he has lost control of the health care debate.
2. After repeatedly insisting on getting a bill on his desk before Congress recessed for the summer, President Obama thought he had a deal with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that if the "Gang of Six" -- three Democrats and three Republican senators on the Finance Committee -- can't reach a consensus on a bipartisan bill by September 15 then the effort will be scrapped and Dems will push forward with their partisan proposals. But then Gang of Six member Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) told "FOX News Sunday's" Chris Wallace that he and the others will not be "held hostage" by the mid-September deadline, and that he and his five colleagues "rejected" a specific timetable, because "it's more important to get this right."In a warning to Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he added, "What we have agreed to is that we are going to be ready when we're ready."
3. A recipient of $45 billion in taxpayer assistance -- with the government holding a 34 percent ownership interest -- Citibank is required to submit the pay packages for its 25 senior executives and highest-paid employees to Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration's special compensation master (AKA "pay czar") for review. The New York Times reports that Citi plans to pay two of its traders a combined $128 million under contracts that had been signed before Congress passed a law tasking the Treasury Secretary with examining compensation packages of top executives at companies that received funds from the U.S. Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) -- even after being warned by Treasury officials that the contracts would be rejected:
Now the bank's decision presents the administration with an awkward political choice between doing little or doing nothing about the contract.
Treasury officials could issue a nonbinding advisory opinion critical of the pay package that that would carry no legal weight but could ameliorate some of the expected political fallout. Or it could do nothing and face the wrath of the public and Congress, which will consider legislation to limit executive pay after its August recess.
Feinberg himself is unsure of whether he has the legal authority to make Citi toe the line. Speaking in generalities, he told Reuters that his authority over executive compensation is "binding" and can "claw back" money already paid out, but regarding the specific case of the two Citi traders -- one of which stands to earn $98 million this year -- he admitted that he is unsure at this juncture "[w]hether I have jurisdiction to decide his compensation or not"and that he has "limited power" over contracts signed before February 11, 2009."
So if Citi thumbs its nose at Tiny Tim Geithner and Feinberg, there may be little or nothing the Obama administration can do about it.
4. If enacted, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warns that the House's "cap-and-trade"climate change bill would cost $8 billion over a 10-year period to implement, and would require thousands of new bureaucrats to formulate nearly 1,500 regulations and mandates for at 21 federal agencies, reports The Washington Times.
Now, four Democratic Senators -- Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan (both representing North Dakota) want to scale down the upper chamber's climate-change bill, reports Bloomberg.com:
The resistance by Lincoln and her Senate colleagues undercuts President Barack Obama's effort to win passage of legislation that would cap carbon dioxide emissions and establish a market for trading pollution allowances, said Peter Molinaro, the head of government affairs for Midland, Michigan- based Dow Chemical Co., which supports the measure.
Leaders of the Democratic-controlled Senate say they are sticking with their plan to combine a version of that bill with a separate measure mandating energy efficiency and the use of renewable sources such as solar and wind power. The legislation also provides for an extension of offshore oil and gas drilling in certain areas, broadening its support.
Reid needs 60 votes to pass a bill that includes a cap-and-trade measure in the Senate, and 15 Dems have already joined their Repub colleagues in opposition because of concerns on the effects of the legislation on the economy.
5. Leaving aside Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez's continual disrespect towards Obama "calling him an "ignoramus"and saying he is "lost in the Andromeda Nebula" -- The Christian Science Monitor notes that "President Obama may be willing to talk to America's adversaries abroad, but six months into his tenure hardly anyone is returning his call"and that "[w]hether the issue is key security threats, as with Iran and North Korea, or lower-profile matters, as with Cuba or Burma (Myanmar), Obama's critics and even some backers of the "talk to the enemy' approach are starting to speak of the policy's limits:
As Americans went to the polls last year, they were apparently ready to give Obama's approach a try, after the perceived failures of the Bush administration's practice of freezing out enemy states. As president, Obama wasted no time converting a campaign pledge to official policy, declaring in his inaugural address, "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
More than six months later, Obama can claim no breakthroughs or cite any obvious unclenched fists. Of the cases where the policy faces its biggest test -- Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba -- responses to Obama's outstretched hand range from a bite back on the nuclear front (North Korea) to silence (Iran) to modest movement (Syria and Cuba).
[C]ritics say the months since the extended hand of the inauguration have allowed adversaries time to further their own goals.
6. Here at home, Obama's grass-roots network -- the 13 million member-strong Organizing for America -- is not exactly champing at the bit to have a go at opponents of his health care objectives, reports The New York Times:
More than a dozen campaign volunteers, precinct captains and team leaders from all corners of Iowa, who dedicated a large share of their time in 2007 and 2008 to Mr. Obama, said ..."they supported the president completely but were taking a break from politics and were not active members of Organizing for America.
Some said they were reluctant to talk to their neighbors about something personal and complicated like health care. ...
But even among those who turned out for the meetings, many of whom had Obama buttons affixed to their shirts and spoke glowingly of the president, there was a sense of fatigue at the prospect of returning to the political calisthenics the Obama army once required.
To Jim Pinkerton, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a FOX News contributor, the lack of enthusiasm is quite illuminating -- "a tale of not only political enervation, but also an epic tale of policy defeat." In a post published on the Serious Medicine Strategy blog, Pinkerton writes:
"Taking a break from politics"? Excuse me, but that's not how political activists operate. They get into politics because they like a campaign, or, if one prefers, a crusade. And they get out when they don't have such an energizing effort to throw themselves into -- or when their eager hearts are broken. And yet that's what Obama has given Democratic activists -- a heartbreaking, de-energizing argument. ...
But of course, we are out of money for health care because Obama chose to spend that money on other priorities -- Tim Geithner's friends. ... Given a choice between investment bankers and non-masters-of-the-universe, Obama and his investment-banker-ish advisers chose ... investment bankers. Maybe Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan can make those grassrootsy phone calls in Iowa.
What Americans get all fired up about, Pinkerton rightly observes, is fighting for their own health, not for "health insurance reform."
7. A new Gallup Poll, "Political Ideology By State, January 2 -- June 30, 2009," finds that "a significantly higher percentage of Americans in most states -- even some solidly Democratic ones -- call themselves conservative rather than liberal. Here's the breakdown: In all 50 states, more people call themselves "conservative" than "liberal;"in 22 states, more people call themselves "conservative" than "moderate; and in 10 states, the number of people who call themselves "conservative"and "moderate" are tied or virtually tied. And remember, this poll was taken before the healthcare "reform"issue ignited and moderates and independents started attending town hall meetings demanding to know how the government will pay for a massive, costly new entitlement.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said people have lost confidence in government:
You know, this debate isn't about health care. Health care's the symptom. The debate is an uncontrolled federal government. ... [T]he tone is based on fear of loss of control of their own government. ... [W]e have raised the question of whether or not we're legitimately thinking about the American people and their long-term best interests.
The Democrats control both houses of Congress and, as president, Obama is the head of the party so a loss in confidence in the government is, at least in part, a loss in confidence in his leadership of the government.
Columnist Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, marvels, "[w]e are witnessing one of the more rapid turnabouts in recent American political history:
President Obama's popularity has plummeted to 50 percent and lower in some polls, while the public expresses even less confidence in the Democratic-led Congress and the direction of the country at large. Yet, just eight months ago, liberals were talking in Rovian style about a new generation to come of progressive politics - and the end of both the Republican party and the legacy of Reaganism itself. Barack Obama was to be the new FDR and his radical agenda an even better New Deal.
Hanson attributes Obama's puffed-up popularity falling like a souffle to 10 factors -- including voters being wary that the cures for global warming, illegal immigration, health care and other large, seemingly intractable problems are worse than the problems themselves --especially new direct and indirect taxes taking an even bigger bite out of the family budget; becoming outraged over the quadrupling of the national debt; finding Obama to be extremely partisan, polarizing and "hyper-racially conscious" and apprehension that Obamania is verging on something sinister and Orwellian.
All of which may be setting Dems up for a comeuppance in November 2010. Byron York, chief political correspondent of The Washington Examiner, writes: "It's a possibility many Republicans speak of only in whispers and Democrats are just now beginning to face. After passionate and contentious fights over health care, the environment, and taxes, could Democrats lose big -- really big -- in next year's elections? ... Not long ago, some Republicans were worried about becoming a permanent minority party. Although they may not win in 2010, they feel like they're back in the game.
In either case, the 2010 election could put checks and balances on Pelosi and Obama -- which will make it even harder than it has proven thus far for the president to keep his campaign promises. And when he runs for re-election in 2012, disappointed, disillustioned and dispirited libs and young voters may not report for duty at Organizing for America, or flock to the polls as they did in 2008.
The Stiletto blogs at The Stiletto Blog. Click here to read more from The Stiletto.