The media and most pundits frame the current budget and debt showdown as a fight between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner. The question on their minds is, which one of the leaders will blink first. A closer look at the standoff, however, reveals that Senate Majority Leader Reid is calling the shots for the Democrats. As Breitbart News noted on Monday, Obama is really mostly a bystander to the debate.
Reid’s role as the Democrats’ chief protagonist in the budget drama was reinforced Tuesday by reports that Reid demanded, and received assurances from the White House, that Vice-President Joe Biden would play no role in any budget talks. Reid and Senate Democrats were concerned that Biden would be able to broker a deal with Republicans to reopen the government and lift the debt ceiling. Biden had reached deals in other high-stakes situations in the past. Reid wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.
That the White House acquiesced to Reid’s demands shows how neutered Obama has become just months into his second term.
On Monday, Senate Democrats reached out to the White House, concerned that Obama might be willing to accept a short-term spending bill and debt ceiling increase to facilitate talks on larger issues. At his press conference on Tuesday, Obama didn’t rule out a short-term increase, which is likely to heighten Senate Democrat anxiety that he is open to a deal.
Most of the government could be reopened tomorrow, if the Senate acted on House legislation to restore funding to different agencies and functions. The Senate Democrats insist on an all-or-nothing proposition for funding government, which is not how the government is normally funded.
So far, Reid has kept his caucus united behind his strategy of not negotiating, even the vulnerable Senators up for reelection next year. It remains to be seen, however, whether Obama will continue to be side-lined in the debate by Reid or if the President’s declining poll numbers convince him it is in his interest to cut a deal.
If America hits its debt ceiling later this month, it will be the fault of Reid and his Senate Democrat caucus. Obama may not want to take that one for the team.