President Obama's divide-and-conquer strategy for dealing with congressional Republicans will be on full display this week.
On Wednesday, he is scheduled to release a budget proposal that White House aides say will endorse at least some of what GOP legislators want – cuts in the popular but expensive Social Security and Medicare programs. Obama advisers say the proposal also will include higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, which Republicans oppose.
Hoping to reduce the expected resistance to his tax and spending recommendations, Obama is scheduled to have a private dinner Wednesday night with a dozen Republican senators, the second such dinner he has had with GOP senators in the past several weeks.
His goal is to bypass Republican leaders in the House and Senate, such as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, and court individual legislators directly. So far, there have been few positive results from this "charm offensive" beyond upbeat but cautious statements about a rise in goodwill for the moment.
This strategy has clear dangers for Obama: For one, it could result in more resentment toward the White House by the GOP leaders who are being bypassed, which could make it more difficult to reach compromises in the future.
And the strategy has already caused a backlash from liberal legislators and activists, particularly over Obama's proposal to change the cost-of-living computation for Social Security that would have the effect of reducing benefits.
"I am terribly disappointed and will do everything in my power to block President Obama's proposal to cut benefits for Social Security recipients," said Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who generally supports Democratic ideas.
In previewing his budget in a national radio address on Saturday, Obama sounded conciliatory. "While it's not my ideal plan to further reduce the deficit," he said, "it's a compromise I'm willing to accept in order to move beyond a cycle of short-term, crisis-driven decision-making, and focus on growing our economy and our middle class for the long run."
But Obama has also begun a major fundraising effort intended to dislodge the GOP from control of the House and to keep Republicans from taking over the Senate. Republican strategists say this effort contradicts Obama's current charm offensive and is breeding more distrust on Capitol Hill.
- Conservatives Avoiding Obama’s Charm Offensive
- Obama Returns to Fundraising Circuit
- Political Cartoons on Deficit and Budget
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.