Obama bucks fellow Democrats: A sign of things to come?

President Obama's compromise with Republicans on the budget infuriated liberal Democrats. But this could be the new reality as Republicans take over Capitol Hill.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
President Obama holds a meeting with senior aides to discuss the US fight against the Ebola virus, at the White House in Washington, Friday. President Obama on Friday hailed a budget compromise that many of his fellow Democrats opposed, saying it is a product of both sides working together.

Liberal Democrats are seething about the big budget deal passed by the House late Thursday with bipartisan support and President Obama’s blessing. Both the content of the bill and the process by which it was crafted are unacceptable, they say.

But that’s the reality of governing when you don’t hold all the cards, Mr. Obama says. You get something, and you give something.

"This, by definition, was a compromise bill,” Obama told reporters Friday.

Later, he added: “I think what the American people very much are looking for is some practical governance and the willingness to compromise, and that's what this really reflects.”  

Translation: The American people don’t want another government shutdown.  

So is this the Obama version of “triangulation,” the political technique employed by the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, after his party lost control of Congress in 1994? Simply told, triangulation involves bucking one’s own party and moving to the center in the hopes of peeling off moderates from the opposing party to pass legislation. Welfare reform was President Clinton’s best example.

Earlier this week, in the $1.1 trillion budget deal crafted by House Republicans and Senate Democrats, two provisions in particular infuriated liberal Democrats: a loosening of regulations on financial institutions and a big increase in limits on contributions to political parties.

As House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California was voicing her strong opposition to the bill on the House floor Thursday, the White House issued a statement in support of the legislation. It was a rare moment of disunity between the president and a key ally on Capitol Hill.

Behind the scenes, Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and other White House officials lobbied House Democrats to support the bill. But the Pelosi-Obama rift wasn’t total. Representative Pelosi didn’t whip against the bill – i.e., she didn’t twist arms to get members of her caucus to vote against it. A majority of Democrats voted against the bill, but enough went along to allow its passage.

That, Pelosi said Friday in a letter to Democrats, strengthened the party come January, when the next Congress is seated.   

“However members voted, a unity of purpose and a clarity of message came from our House Democratic caucus. In that positive spirit, we strengthened our position to achieve common sense solutions for the American people in the 114th Congress,” Pelosi wrote.

Obama, in his public remarks Friday, asserted that “there are a bunch of provisions in this bill that I really do not like.” But then he listed funding priorities that survived, including health care reform, combating climate change, early childhood education, and expanding manufacturing hubs.

The fight over the president’s executive actions on immigration will come with the next Congress, when Democrats are in the minority in both houses. This week’s bill funds the Department of Homeland Security only until February, at which point Republicans hope to force the president’s hand on the issue. That could be the next big test of the Obama White House’s “triangulation” skills.

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