Commentary Magazine


White House Can’t Keep Its Budget Story Straight

Up until now our “economic commander-in-chief” has been noticeably absent from the budget debate. Last week, the White House insisted he was tied up with that bothersome war in Libya. But now, as Politico reports, the administration claims his late entry into the debate was all part of a calculated political strategy:

The president’s late entry into direct talks was a calculated strategy, [administration officials] say, to avoid overexposing Democrats’ sole marquee star and to gain maximum leverage after House Republicans and Senate Democrats fell short of an agreement. . . . Despite his cool customer reputation, Obama has a distinct flair for the dramatic. Like the favorite in a prize fight, he enters the ring only after his opponent has shadow-boxed alone for a spell—hanging back until only he can finish the job.

So the White House is trying to convince us that his absence was really a form of leadership?

That might sound less ridiculous if Obama hadn’t passed up the chance to adopt a budget last fall. As Ed Morrissey points out at Hot Air, “[H]e’s been AWOL on the budget for months. He could have pressed Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to produce a budget in 2010 when Democrats had full control of Congress. Where was his outrage then?”

Politico goes on to suggest that Obama was also staying out of the fight because he didn’t want to attack Republicans.

“Progressives pressured him to tear apart the Republican budget, a blueprint that endangered many of their cherished principles, but Obama declined,” Politico reported. “The president wanted to avoid a shutdown at almost any cost, so he wouldn’t alienate Republicans, with whom he would need to strike a deal.”

There was a way to get involved without necessarily going on the attack. But if Obama was genuinely worried that his progressive base wouldn’t like his civility toward Republicans, he was demonstrating the opposite of leadership. More like political cowardice.