The president's new message: I care

In other words, the president is worried that Congress is getting back to doing its job, rather than just pointlessly tangling with him all the time, and that this might leave him both less relevant and less powerful. I think he’s right, and right to be worried. It has been difficult to see through all the dust thrown up by the various ridiculous deadline-driven budget bouts, but the first few months of Obama’s second term have not gone very well for him. The Bush tax rates are now “permanent” for about 98 percent of the country and the automatic 2013 tax increase was kept about as small as it could have been, the growth of discretionary spending is being modestly restrained by the 2011 budget agreement and sequester and major new spending is almost unthinkable, there’s a continuing resolution coming soon that looks likely to ease the burdens placed on the Pentagon (at least) by the form of the sequester without increasing spending levels, and that CR will likely put off further 2013 budget fights at least well into the summer (when the debt ceiling will be reached again) and perhaps through the fiscal year to clear the deck for the 2014 budget fight—in which House Republicans will offer a budget that balances in ten years without raising taxes and Senate Democrats (proposing their first budget since 2009) seem likely to offer one that doesn’t balance yet does raise taxes. And all the while, the president has gotten nothing else accomplished and his approval ratings have dropped. …

But if the past few months have not been hugely successful for Republicans, they have been a disaster for the president, whose power naturally diminishes with every passing day in this second term. And he seems to understand why: Republicans have decided to stop focusing on him and start using the leverage they have as the party in charge of one house of Congress—working with Senate Democrats to seek common ground where they can and forcing them to take uncomfortable votes where they can, while taking it for granted that the president will sign anything Congress sends him. That’s the promise of “regular order” for them, and it has some appeal for Senate Democrats too, since the president has offered no agenda for them to rally around and seems to have very little interest in their reelection prospects.

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