Most people recognize that the balance of 2013 is the most critical remaining legislative period for the Obama Presidency, yet one does not have a sense that the President has learned very much about legislating—even in the especially hostile, partisan environment within which he is functioning. Passage by the House of an immigration reform bill, debt ceiling extension, the farm bill, appropriation bills, tax reform initiatives, and sequestration—for starters—all could benefit from a significant dose of White House leadership–aka bullying. Senatorial foot-dragging on nominations (both judicial and administrative) also needs a strong dose of presidential leveraging.
Confrontation is needed now more than ever before the August recess as the lawyerly Obama style is not getting the job done. Once again the President appears to have avoided a possible confrontation with business and Congress. He pleased corporate leaders last week by postponing for a year Affordable Health Care law’s requirement that medium and large companies were mandated to provide medical insurance coverage to employees or face stiff penalties. Obama does not appear to have obtained anything for this decision except continued Republican critique of his legislation. He compromised with no-trade-offs.
The problem for Obama is he has not learned what Robert Caro reported in the fourth volume of his monumental study of Lyndon Johnson. When confronted during his first days in office after the assassination of President Kennedy with the critical unfinished legislative agenda left on JFK’s desk, Johnson was advised by some not to expend political capital on lost causes nor try to do it all right away—especially the civil rights bill. To this Caro reports Johnson said: “Well, what the hell the presidency’s for?”