Memo to House Dems: Know Thine Perceived Presidential Enemy

Posted on June 28, 2011


The soap operas have left TV because Capitol Hill and the President have given the public their fill.  Here is the not too surprising headline from The Hill’s assessment of the Democratic lawmakers’ relationship with their leader over budget talks.  It is all part of the “I did not know the gun was loaded” approach to public posture both Republicans and Democrats are assuming:

House Democrats feel jilted by the president in budget, debt talks

By Mike Lillis – 06/28/11 05:45 AM ET

House Democrats feel like jilted lovers.

They’re looking down Pennsylvania Avenue for some sign of affection from President Obama in the White House. But all they feel they’re getting in return is the back of his hand.

“How is it that the House Democrats played such an important role [in the majority], and all of a sudden [the White House says], ‘Forget it, we’ll work with the Senate and the Republican leadership?’ ” asked Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), vice chairman of the Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee.

House Democrats’ frustration with Obama is boiling in the intense heat of negotiations to reach a budget deal and raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

Capitol Hill Democrats have been steaming for months, since being sidelined during talks to extend the George W. Bush-era tax rates and fund the government this year. Many say the White House takes their support for granted but ignores them when it comes to making policy.

“Before this year we were playing a strong role,” said Cuellar, but “now a lot of us feel like we’re almost being ignored.”

A fellow Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Capitol Hill Democrats called months ago for oil to be released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower gasoline prices, but the president waited until last week to do it.

The lawmaker called the White House “obtuse” and added, “I’m disappointed in their politics.” [The Hill]

The headline should have read:  Strategic move by Rep Republican Eric Cantor in Abandoning Biden Budget Talks forces President into Talks – Talks he planned to Enter.

Within 24 hours of the event on 23 June, the White House issued an “we planned on this” comeback:

As events unfolded Thursday, a White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said the negotiations led by the vice president were now “in abeyance,” and he tried to play down the development by suggesting that the White House had expected that at some point the president would take charge of the talks. Exactly when that would happen was not clear, and Mr. Carney did not elaborate. [NY Times]

OK so it’s check.  But Republicans, remember, the President is good at the 11th hour check, mate which he pulled off in the health care debates.  He is the poster boy for “I succeed where others fail.”  Cantor’s move was far earlier than anticipated.  Republicans have learned that Presidential Dithering about stepping in to assume leadership is purposeful.  It buys time for the White House to develop the end game while the second stringers are uncovering what Republicans will tolerate.

Put another way: Are house Dems really naive enough to believe that the President is making them look bad ?  No!  It is all part of the PR. And remember, too, this is the President who has been known for his “dithering.”  The moral of this story is:  don’t believe what you read in a publication that follows events on the Hill.