Why hasn’t the White House coordinated a budget position with Senate Democrats, their allies on Capitol Hill, rather than set themselves up as arbiters between the House and Senate? As Major Garrett explains to Chuck Todd on MSNBC this morning, Senate Democrats are asking the same question. Democrats in the Senate have begun lashing out at the White House for its lack of leadership; Joe Manchin blasted Barack Obama in a floor speech yesterday for failing to lead on budget reductions. Garrett calls this the “canary in the coal mine” and tells Todd that the mistrust between both has broken out into the open:

MAJOR GARRETT: This will sound glib, but Joe Manchin from West Virginia was the canary in the coal mine. Last week, Senate Democrats at their luncheon caucus meeting said among themselves the White House is absent. We’re not getting any air cover on this debate. We don’t know what the White House bottom line is. The trajectory is moving in the House Republican’s direction because originally Senate Democrats said no cuts, then they said $4 billion, now they’re up to $10 billion. What is the trajectory?

CHUCK TODD: But the White House will argue the Senate Democrats come up with just one plan. House Republicans have come up with two. Come up with one plan. They want the Senate Democrats to own the plan.

MAJOR GARRETT: Yes, but the Senate Democrats have a lingering fear that whatever they come up with, the White House will say, okay, you’re there and the House Republicans are here, and we’re going to get right down the middle. We’ll be the cavalry on our terms. So what this is partially about is a lack of trust in a sense of whose side the White House is on.

Air cover? Cavalry? Such violent rhetoric in use among journalists and politicos!  What happened to the New Tone?

There’s a better analogy.  Senate Democrats see themselves as Charlie Brown, and Obama as Lucy teeing up the football.  Obama talks about Democrats meeting Republicans halfway, encouraging Senate Dems to try to kick the ball and challenge the GOP to a showdown — only they think Obama will pull the ball at the last minute to make himself look moderate at their expense.  Given that Democrats in the Senate already have a tough 2012 election cycle on the horizon, the last thing many of them need is a vote that challengers can use to paint them as more radical than Barack Obama on spending.

I think they’re giving Obama too much credit.  If that’s really his plan, why not do it already?  Is he waiting for the FY2012 budget to pull the ball away from Senate Democrats?  This looks much more like Obama voting “present” on budget plans by sending Joe Biden for a one-off, face-saving appearance.  Obama did much the same with ObamaCare and on Porkulus, forcing Democrats in Congress to do all of the heavy lifting while he gave 30,000-foot level speeches on the subject.  In the end, they paid the price, not Obama.  He’s less a Lucy than a Linus looking for a security blanket.