Meanwhile, the Democrats' claim that they were meeting House Republicans halfway on spending for the remainder of fiscal 2011 was quickly debunked by media fact-checkers, and 11 of the 53 Democratic senators voted against their own budget plan. Freshman Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia even took to the Senate floor to complain that the president was absent from the bargaining table.
The result is that the government is being funded for two- or three-week periods, with deadlines looming, negotiations going on and off -- and no one answering at (202) 456-1414.
One must admit that the issues involved here are difficult. The revolt against the Gadhafi regime in Libya poses hard questions, and even those advocating certain responses, like Kerry and Wolfowitz, admit that there is no assurance that they will work as hoped.
On the budget, the two parties are far apart. The House Republican leadership, responding to their 87 freshmen and to the voters' verdict last November, clearly have the momentum in pushing for additional cuts in spending.
Democrats, who increased spending so sharply in the stimulus package and budget passed in 2009, have principled reasons for resisting and probably hope that a failure to agree followed by a government shutdown will help their party, as they believe happened in the 1995-96 confrontation between Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton.
Voting "present" may be a responsible move for a legislator genuinely undecided about which way to go. But an executive voting "present" is choosing a course with consequences, whether he likes it or not.
"The buck stops here," said the sign on the desk of the 33rd president, Harry Truman, who was quick to make decisions -- sometimes too quick. The 44th president's tendency seems to be something like the opposite.