The third development is the budget struggle over spending in the remainder of fiscal year 2011. At this writing, it was not clear whether negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would avert a government shutdown, which both say they don't want.
What is clear is that there already have been significant cuts in domestic discretionary spending -- far more than the Democratic Congress ever would have considered in 2010 -- and that there will be more to come.
Congressional Democratic leaders could have avoided this by passing a budget resolution and appropriations in 2010 and by increasing taxes on high earners by extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone else. But despite their large majorities, they never got around to doing so. Instead, they watched glumly as Obama agreed to extend all the tax cuts in December, and now they are negotiating billions in cuts they never would have countenanced last year.
Why? Because of public opinion, as registered in poll responses to the Democrats' vast expansion of the size and scope of government, symbolized by, but not limited to, the February 2009 stimulus package and Obamacare.
As a result, Democratic leaders dared not ask their members to vote for the policies they favored. Despite their large majorities, they just didn't have the votes.
Obama's refusal to address entitlement issues now has a similar basis. He wants spending to continue on its upward trajectory and tax rates to be increased. There is an intellectually serious argument for this: We're an aging country that needs to spend more on health care, and we'll just have to settle for less economic growth, as Europe has done.
But status quo and stagnation are not an appealing platform, especially for one who campaigned as the candidate of hope and change. Democrats are playing defense, hoping for a shift of opinion. So far, it hasn't happened.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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