Is Obama Ready to Pay the Cost to be the Boss?

“26 percent”

-- Portion of respondents in a Pew Research Center poll who said they trust the U.S. federal government to do the right thing always or most of the time.

President Obama’s sudden and urgent engagement with members of Congress can be credited to polls that show widespread disapproval for his preceding efforts to undo automatic reductions to automatic increases in federal spending.

But we’ll get a good idea today whether this is the president shoring up his flank before a renewed assault or if he really means to do business on deficits. Obama meets today with Senate Democrats, on whom rest any hopes for a budget deal beyond a continuation of the current fiscal demolition derby.

Obama hasn’t asked much of his former Senate colleagues since jamming through his health law in 2010. But if he wants to do a deal with House Republicans, the president has got some big asks to make.

The federal government is on track to spend more than $8 trillion between now and the Midterm elections next year, and at least $1.3 trillion of that will be borrowed money. To get Republicans to authorize the borrowing and spending, especially in larger chunks than the mini-extensions of the past two years, Obama needs Senate Democrats to bring entitlement programs into the mix.

Can the fragile and largely untested Senate Democratic coalition come up with a plan that can keep liberal entitlement absolutists and tax-averse, red-state Democrats united? And will the president pay the political price for trying to forge such a coalition? It would certainly be a boon to Democratic hopes of keeping a stout Senate majority, but it wouldn’t be at all in keeping with Obama’s prior conduct as a party of one.

With Obama’s personal national committee, Organizing for Action, holding its first conclave this week in Washington, there are many on the blue team who wonder if Obama is willing to pay any price at all for the greater good of Democrats.

Obama, who was a halfhearted ally to his fellow Democrats in the 2010 shellacking, says he’s ready to take to the battlements this time in order to advance his agenda and preserve his legacy. But siphoning money away from the Democratic National Committee to fund policy pushes on awkward topics like gun control does not convince Democrats that Obama has suddenly become a team player.

Senate Democrats may not want to be pushed on fiscal issues right now, but if Obama can start to convince them that he won’t abandon them once things get icky, he might be able to do a deal. If he doesn’t start that push with Senate Democrats today, we can safely conclude that Obama’s outreach has been more window dressing.


To get an idea of how hard and costly this would be for Obama, consider that Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray is expected today to roll out a plan with $1 trillion in new taxes and no substantive changes to entitlement programs driving current and future deficit projections, Social Security, Medicare and Obama’s 2010 health-insurance subsidies.

Democrats are incensed over Republican House Budge Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s spending plan that leans on savings from voiding Obama’s insurance entitlement in order to balance the budget in a decade. But Ryan has the advantage at least of offering to eliminate something unpopular while Democrats are in the position of defending tax increases and deficit spending for the foreseeable future.

Plus, the Ryan budget plan will almost surely pass the House. Murray’s plan should be able to get 51 votes, but it will be a harder pull with so many moderates up for re-election next year.

Will Obama face the fury of Murray and others on the left? Will he make his case to centrist Democrats that he is prepared to become a triangulator after a very unilateral four years?

Ten days of lunches and dinners after nearly eight months of knuckle-splitting partisan attacks won’t change perceptions of the president in and out of Washington. He’ll have to be willing to pay a price greater than the dinner check at the Jefferson Hotel to show his adversaries and putative allies that he is ready to govern.

If Obama wants Democrats and Republicans to move beyond short-term personal advantage in these negotiations, he will have to lead by example.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Look, last week everybody is excited that the president supped with 12 Republicans.  I'm not a believer in relationships.  I'm a believer in policy.  I don't care what the relationship is, if he has one or doesn't, plays golf with whomever, Republican or Democrat.  The problem isn't that he and Ryan aren't buddies.  The problem is that he is not interested in cutting.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at