Take, for example, Obama's arms-length -- no, make that football-field-length -- posture in this week's rough-and-tumble budget debate to avoid a government shutdown. Obama wanted nothing to do with it, staying on the sidelines, hoping House and Senate leaders would work things out by themselves.
The White House feared a shutdown for a number of reasons, but first and foremost for the political fallout that could rain down on it. A Washington Post poll released this week showed that Americans were evenly split over who would be at fault if a budget extension deal could not be reached. Thirty-five percent said they would fault Obama, while 36 percent would blame the Republicans.
But if Democrats were looking to the White House to help design a potential compromise or at least help in the negotiations, they were sorely disappointed.
In the end, the news stories said the stopgap measure was the result of both parties on Capitol Hill. In fact, the two-week spending extension that easily passed the House and Senate -- with $4 billion in budget cuts -- was the work of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who initially attacked the budget-cutting compromise, eventually embraced it, and a relieved President Obama quickly signed it into law.
Earlier this week, Boehner complained that Obama had largely sat on the sidelines throughout the budget debate and could have done more. That led to a 10-minute phone call from the president to the speaker to discuss the pending bill. Notably, Reid dodged questions from reporters about Obama's reluctance to get more involved.
In a parting shot, after the hard work of compromise had already been done by GOP leaders, Obama said in a statement: "We cannot keep doing business this way. Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible ..."
Not responsible? What is not responsible is running up a budget deficit of $1.6 trillion in this fiscal year, with annual trillion-dollar-plus deficits forecast for the remainder of this decade.
To be sure, two weeks doesn't leave much time to work out a compromise budget for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. But Republicans are determined to keep the Democrats and Obama on a short leash, just to keep the pressure on them to cut a deal.
Will Obama sit this one out, too?
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