If talks with leaders have gotten Obama nowhere, the same is true of his forays to the hustings. Aiming to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers by firing up the public is not exactly a direct route between problem and solution. The problem – soaring debt – is complicated and so are American attitudes about how to fix it. The trips also drew Republican complaints about Obama’s permanent campaign, though most presidents engage in this type of public show, to draw energy from friendly crowds as much as anything else.
A more serious problem with the campaign-style strategy seems to be that until Obama says something directly to a Republican, it apparently hasn’t been said. This became apparent in a much-discussed account by The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, who found that “one of the most respected Republicans in Congress” was unaware of Obama’s standing offers to trim Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and charge the wealthy more for Medicare.
After Obama’s Hill offensive, there should no longer be any doubt about what he’s willing to contribute to a grand bargain on taxes and spending. Whether rank-and-file Republicans will take yes for an answer on those issues and do their part by offering to close tax loopholes is another question. Will they have enough trust in him to move forward?