Obama Pushed to the Point of Pleasantry

“The president understands that to get anything done, he needs a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. To have a legacy in 2016, he will need a House majority in 2014, and that work has to start now.”

-- Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, talking to the Washington Post.

Does President Obama want to do a deal with Republicans or is he just looking for cover after a series of setbacks in his scorched-earth war on the GOP?

Obama dined Wednesday night with moderate and blue state Senate Republicans and today will host House budget boss Paul Ryan for a White House luncheon. The senators said Obama sounded hopeful about the chances for a deal to get past the era of fiscal cliff diving in Washington.

We will no doubt hear something similar from Ryan after his lunch with Obama and ranking House Budget Committee Democrat Chris Van Hollen.

But is a “big deal” – something on the order of a $4 trillion reduction to future deficit spending – possible? And is Obama ready to ditch his audacious second-term strategy after just three months?

At the audacious start to Obama’s second term the president and his team laid out the plan for the next two years: Fight.  Obama, with the help of a well-funded permanent campaign, was going to make the conclusive case against Republicanism ahead of the 2014 Midterm elections and then get voters to return full control of Congress to the blue team.

Obama would either get what he wanted – more spending on domestic programs financed partly through higher taxes on top earners plus a rapid amnesty for illegal immigrants, gun control and more – or would use Republican opposition as a cudgel to beat Republicans out of power.

Democrats, especially liberals, roared with approval. The major complaint on the left about Obama was that the president was too accommodating of the wretched Republicans. They didn’t even want him to negotiate on the debt ceiling, let alone build the sequestration machine.

Here, in Obama 2.0, was a man the left could fall in love with all over again.

But as the president watches his approval ratings drop and sees voters laugh off his dire warnings about the automatic reductions to automatic increases in spending, the plan is not working out so well.

The problem is that Obama overestimated his reserve of political capital and underestimated the savvy (and cynicism) of the voting public. Asking people to endure two years of bitter dysfunction for the promise of future progress was always going to be a tough pull. Doing so while maintaining that the only way forward is to have your party in total control is even tougher.

Steve Israel, the New York representative who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Washington Post last week that the president understands that everything – Obama’s second-term agenda, his legacy, etc. – hinges on having a Democratic House in 2015 and 2016.

That did not go over well with Team Obama. Folks who are willing to take a public pasting for trying to reserve the power to execute citizens without trial do not like to be told that they will be irrelevant now and may be irrelevant forever depending on the outcomes of a couple dozen House races.


Plus, Israel gave away the game too clearly. He bluntly crystallized what Team Obama had been talking about for months. Instead of gassing on about the power of big data, stakeholder contributions, the bully pulpit and other preferred Obamaland buzzwords, Israel made it plain.

If Obama’s attacks, blaming, scare mongering and denunciations do not deliver a Democratic House, it would all be for naught.

Meantime, Obama admirers like the Post’s editorial board and the New York Times’ David Brooks were expressing misgivings about Obama’s stridency and unwillingness to engage. His center-left fans were cringing at the follies leading up to the start of the sequestration and Obama’s demand for more taxes… or else.

The truth, as they understand, is that unless something is done to deal with the rising cost of entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Obama’s 2010 health-insurance plan – there will be less and less money available for everything else, sequestration or no sequestration.

Voters broadly and strongly disagree with the president on the sequestration and he is burning through heaps of political capital to try to win another tax increase. He’s also shredding his credibility with centrists and making himself look like an unreasonable man.

If he spends most of 2013 in this mode, his ability to deliver a Democratic House will be long gone. Another year of small-bore budget battles, especially losing ones, does not befit a transformative presidency.

But is Obama really ready to deal after just a few weeks of pushback against what was always an audacious strategy?

Doing a deal would require Obama antagonizing his base in a way that he has always refused to do. If Obama wants a deal, he will have to convince lots of resistant Democrats that the time has come to really gore their sacred cows. It’s the only way to get to a budget deal big enough to get through the next two years.

But will Team Obama be able to take the heat when liberals start screaming? If some tut tutting from friendly sources and an approval-rating slide are enough to force the famously aloof Obama to start breaking bread with Republicans, how long will he last when the core of his coalition starts screaming about him caving in to the GOP again?

What would appear more likely, based on Obama’s prior performance, is that, like a round of golf with House Speaker John Boehner, this current outreach is perfunctory and will be short-lived. Obama doesn’t do well at deals once the discussions get past broad principles and has shown no willingness to fight his own party, except for drones, etc.

Having shown that he is willing to talk to Republicans and quiet his mainstream critics, Obama will most likely get back to the business of explaining why they are not worth talking to in the first place.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“[Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster is] a stroke of political genius.  He will be remembered.  This raises his image and he is sincere about this.  I think this will be a moment that people will say launched him as a national figure.

-- 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 FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.