Chief executives are never entirely irrelevant, whether they are governors or Presidents. They have too much significance and can cause too many problems to be altogether meaningless in the political process. Once they begin to appear irrelevant, though, Presidents and governors almost never recover their political relevancy. In that sense, today’s Roll Call article on the fate of Barack Obama’s legislative “to-do list” should have the White House very worried, as neither Republicans nor Democrats demonstrate much interest in Obama’s legislative priorities — or even seem to know what they are:
In the meantime, several Senators confessed to Roll Call that they don’t know what is on the to-do list anyway, despite several speeches in which Obama has urged his followers to tweet, call, write and email lawmakers urging them to take it up.
“Didn’t we do some things he wanted us to do?” asked Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). “[Export-Import] Bank, that doesn’t count? That wasn’t on the to-do list?”
No. The president wanted that, too, but it’s not on the list.
“Do you have a copy of the to-do list?” Landrieu asked.
After a reporter told her what was on the list, she quipped, “We’re adding to that list by doing some great things.”
“I don’t have a copy of it; I’m sure my staff does,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), when asked when the Senate might get to it.
“We’ve got June, July. We’ve got some time. What time frame did he put on that to-do list?”
When told the president said the to-do list could be done “now,” Casey joked, “Now is a very expansive term. It’s not even the summer yet.“
“Didn’t we just try to move on student loans. Wasn’t that on his list?” asked Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
No, that’s a separate priority.
“You’d have to ask Harry Reid” why the list hasn’t moved, Levin said.
All three of these examples, it should be noted, are members of Obama’s own political party. They control the Senate, which means that the President’s legislative agenda should have no problem getting to the floor, unless it’s so out of step with reality that no one wants to move it. In this case, it appears at least so far out of step with his own Democratic allies that they haven’t bothered to learn it. Not only that, but clearly Obama’s stump-speech exhortations to support his agenda are failing miserably at getting a response.
Obama has no one but himself to blame for this irrelevancy. He set the stage himself with two successive budgets that were so ridiculously burdened with debt that neither got a single vote in three separate attempts — not even from anyone in his own party. In a parliamentary system, that would have forced a resignation from the head of government. In our system, it sends a pretty clear signal that the White House has no real clue about the political temperature in either party, and as such have made themselves largely irrelevant in the budgeting process. Budget agreements now get made between John Boehner and Harry Reid thanks to Obama’s ridiculous offerings on spending, and Obama would have to sign whatever comes out of those negotiations or take the blame on himself for a shutdown.
We saw this happen at the state level in Minnesota a decade ago. Jesse Ventura became so detached from the governance of the state that Republicans and Democrats united to pass veto-proof budgets, effectively cutting the governor out of the loop and making him a figurehead. That won’t happen in Congress, especially not in an election year, but the lack of interest in Obama’s priorities among Democrats and Republicans alike show that the level of Obama’s irrelevance to governance is increasing, not decreasing.