President Obama appears to have the upper hand in his bitter fight with House Republicans over extending a payroll tax cut and continuing long-term unemployment benefits.
The result could be an enduring impression, just as the 2012 election year begins, of a pragmatic president trying to find congressional compromises to help the struggling middle class, contrasted with an intransigent and partisan conservative majority in the House.
One reason that Obama holds the upper hand is that as president he has a bigger megaphone than his opponents. This was clear yesterday when he made a surprise appearance in the White House media briefing room and stole the headlines from the GOP. He said the only realistic way to guarantee a timely resolution is for the House to accept a two-month Senate-approved extension and negotiate a longer-term agreement after the new year.
Obama urged Republicans to "put politics aside....and let's not play brinksmanship. The American people are weary of it. They're tired of it. They expect better."
This drowned out the arguments of House Republican leaders who tried to defend their rejection of the Senate bill because, they argued, it was too limited in scope. Surrounded by fellow Republican representatives, House Speaker John Boehner said, "I need the president to help out." But he got relatively little coverage for his remarks.
Earlier this week, a Washington Post/ABC News polls showed that Obama's job approval rating was on the upswing, rising markedly to 49 per cent, while congressional Republicans were lagging badly at 20 per cent.
One reason for the disparity, political strategists and polling experts say, is that Obama has been effectively criticizing the GOP for obstructionism and excessive partisanship. Amid the wreckage of still another congressional compromise, the disparity will probably grow wider.