Congress will be justifiably condemned for the failure of the "super committee" to reach agreement on cutting the deficit. But President Obama will also take his share of the blame.
That's because, even though the committee was a joint panel of the House and Senate with no formal White House representation, Americans expect their president to push the system into action and, through persuasion, cajolery, threats, intimidation or personal diplomacy, get things done on Capitol Hill.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right when he told reporters, in reaction to the committee's collapse, "It's the chief executive's job to bring people together and to provide leadership. I don't see that happening."
White House officials are working hard to limit the damage. Press Secretary Jay Carney argued that Obama had made his preferences known--a blend of spending cuts and tax increases on the rich--but Republicans would not accept his revenue component. Carney made clear that Obama considered this a congressional effort all along so he didn't get personally involved in the final negotiations. This was in contrast to his immersion earlier this year in successful efforts to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a federal default. But Obama didn't want to get stuck in the morass of messy negotiations this time, which White House strategists considered a sure-fire way to alienate many constituencies. And there was less urgency because the automatic cuts triggered by the committee's failure won't happen until 2013.
Obama was quick to blame the GOP, arguing that there are "still too many Republicans in Congress who have refused to listen to the voices of reason and compromise that are coming from outside of Washington....Already, some in Congress are trying to undo automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple: No. 1, I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure."
This sounds great. The question is whether Obama will follow through.
Americans want their president to break legislative logjams. And it's not all that unusual. Republican President Ronald Reagan worked with congressional Democrats, especially conservative Southern Democrats known as "boll weevils," during the 1980s to win passage of budget compromises and other legislation. Democrat Bill Clinton worked with congressional Republicans to win passage of other budget measures and to overhaul the welfare system.
The public isn't happy with anyone involved in the budget process these days. A Quinnipiac University poll taken just before the announcement of the talks' collapse, when failure was obvious, found that 44 per cent of voters blamed Republicans for the committee's failure and 38 per cent blamed the president and his congressional allies. But by a 49-39 margin, voters said the super committee should have emphasized spending cuts to reach its target of $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions rather than a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.
Now President Obama will be under the gun even more. As the only official elected to represent the entire country, if he can't master Washington and lead the way to a compromise during the next year, when Congress and the administration will try again to cut the $15 trillion national debt, he will be at a serious disadvantage in the 2012 campaign. Americans want their president to get things done, not make excuses