That’s the question Politico asks, but it’s really only half of Barack Obama’s problem in this standoff:
President Barack Obama’s greatest adversary in the latest budget battle isn’t the Republican leadership in Congress — it’s his confidence in his own ability to force a win.
He has been so certain of his campaign skills that he didn’t open a line of communication with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell until Thursday, a week before the spending ax hits. And when they did finally hear from Obama, the calls were perfunctory, with no request to step up negotiations or invitations to the White House.
That’s because Obama’s all-in on an outside strategy, doing just about everything other than holding serious talks with Republicans. In the last two days alone, he’s courted local TV anchors, called in a select group of White House correspondents to talk off-the-record, chatted up black broadcasters, and announced plans to stump next week at Virginia’s Newport News Shipyard. Throughout, he’s talked in tough terms that signal little interest in compromise — or suggestion of backing down.
He’s navigating a thin line. Obama is convinced he’s got the upper hand on Republicans. Yet he can go only so long before he risks being perceived as a main actor in Washington’s dysfunction, threatening a core element of his political brand — and the fragile economic recovery he’s struggled to maintain.
In other words, he’s been great at yelling, “Wolf!” When it comes to action about what to do with the wolf — which may or may not be real — Obama has done nothing. He’s been relying on a compliant media to keep from pointing out that inconvenient fact, and so far, that seems to be working.
Normally, of course, budget matters wouldn’t require the high-wire act for negotiations. The House would pass one version of a budget, and the Senate another. When control of the two chambers are split, that allows both parties to pass their own priorities and then go into conference committee to hash out their differences. That system actually works, although no one ends up terribly happy with the results.