Actually, it didn’t seem all that long ago. After the election gave him a second term, the media talked about Barack Obama’s mandate for a progressive second-term agenda. When he got tax hikes in the New Year’s Day budget showdown, the media and his fellow Democrats considered him unstoppable. The big question was whether House Republicans would self-immolate by attempting to be an opposition party to Obama the Great.
Suddenly, we’re now seeing stories like this from Politico that paint Obama as an obstacle for Democrats, not Republicans:
President Barack Obama says he’s ready to do whatever it takes to help Democrats win the House next year — a feat that could make the difference between limping to the end of his presidency and going out with a bang.
But some Democratic candidates and operatives in the districts on which control of the House will hinge said in interviews with POLITICO that the message and issues Obama has emphasized since the election are creating a difficult political headwind for them.
Obama’s political choices, they say, reflect a tone-deafness to the challenges they face competing for moderate and conservative-leaning seats.
It’s not just the House where Democrats have begun to worry about Obama’s overreach on a progressive agenda. In another article today, Politico also reports that the first Senate budget in four years will offer little support for that agenda in a chamber controlled by his own party:
Paying a price for his indifference, President Barack Obama is expected to get little or none of the extra money for health care and Wall Street reforms that the administration has been seeking in a six-month stopgap spending bill coming to the Senate floor this week.
Bipartisan Senate talks continued through the weekend in hopes of filing final legislation late Monday afternoon. Action by Congress is needed before March 27 to avert a government shutdown and the measure stands to greatly influence how agencies operate in the wake of the across-the-board cuts ordered under sequestration.
The White House had wanted $949 million added within the Department of Health and Human Services to help lay the groundwork for setting up state health-care exchanges to begin enrollment next fall. Smaller plus-ups were also proposed for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission, both affected by the recent cuts.
House Republicans refused to include any of these requests in their version of the stopgap bill adopted last week. Senate Democrats are now taking the same path given the weakness of Obama’s response and their need to pick up Republican votes.
Indeed, a statement of administration policy last week on the House bill said only that the White House was “deeply concerned” with the House bill and never even hinted of using the president’s veto leverage. This ceded effective control to Republicans and led Democrats to turn their focus more to protecting long-standing priorities such as investments in transportation or programs like Head Start for low-income children.
Two issues are probably at work, neither of them good for Democrats or Obama. First, there has been a real sense that Obama overreached on tax hikes and partisan warfare to get them. That’s not unlike the first two years of Obama’s presidency, when he tried to marginalize and humiliate the already-marginalized Republicans by allowing Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to lock them out of the deliberations for the stimulus package, and to a lesser extent ObamaCare later. That resulted in a huge voter backlash in the 2010 midterms, which Reid at least seems to remember.
Second, the fallout from the Nightmare on Sequester Street pratfall must have Democrats worried plenty. After promising that the world would come to an end if the rate of increased federal spending was reduced by 2.3%, the lack of any real consequences — combined with plenty of examples of foolish government spending — has destroyed Democrats’ credibility in this budget fight. No one’s going to buy these Chicken Little scenarios now in response to Republican budget cuts, and Democrats want to get ahead of the curve now. If Obama wants to follow, fine, but they are not concerned at the moment with whether Obama is on board with this strategy or not.
Perhaps the eulogies for the Republican Party were a bit … premature.