Video: Obama revels in temporary budget respite

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama revels in temporary budget respite

    >>> of high political drama and skirting right up to the edge of a midnight shutdown, the american government was open for business today. and while that has members of congress patting themselves on the back for working out a budget compromise, it was president obama who was out running a victory lap today, literally jaunting up the steps of the lincoln memorial this afternoon. the president greeted surprised tourists at one of the places that stood to close if that budget deal hadn't been done. but for all the congratulations, the $38 billion lawmakers trimmed out of the budget amounts to just a drop in the buck net the face of a $14 trillion debt. and more money battles are just around the corner. nbc's mike viqueira begins our coverage. he's at the white house tonight. mike?

    >> reporter: good evening, lester . they are calling it the biggest cut to annual government spending in american history . today, both sides are taking credit, even as they prepare for a bigger budget battle to come.

    >> this is what america is all about.

    >> reporter: president obama surprised tourists today at the lincoln memorial , highlighting the end, for now, of the budget crisis . and that the government is open for business .

    >> because congress was able to settle its differences, that's why this place is open today and everybody is able to enjoy their visit. and that's the kind of future cooperation i hope we have going forward.

    >> reporter: the agreement was reached just 90 minutes before the government would have partially shut down. even as he hailed the deal, mr. obama warned the cuts would be painful.

    >> beginning to live within our means is the only way to protect those investments that will help america compete for new jobs. investments in our kids' education and student loans. in clean energy and life-saving medical research .

    >> reporter: it was a dizzying day of trading offers and racing the clock.

    >> this has been a lot of discussion and a long fight. but we fought to keep government spending down because it really will, in fact, help create a better environment for job creators in our country.

    >> reporter: the agreement trims $38.5 billion from this year's budget . that's $5.5 billion higher than the president wanted early in the week. in the end, both sides claimed victory.

    >> we've agreed to an historic amount of cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year.

    >> reporter: but there was a final sticking point. republican demands to cut federal funding for family planning clinics, including planned parenthood , which, among its medical services, performs some abortions with nontaxpayer funds. in the end, democrats won out and the measure was dropped. but the budget battles may have just gotten started. all told, the new agreement cuts just $1 in $100 of federal spending. next week house republicans will vote on a much bigger, even more controversial plan to slash the national debt , begin with next year's budget .

    >> if we stay on the current path, we are heading toward a debt-fueled economic crisis . meaning massive tax increases, sudden cuts to vital programs, runaway inflation or all three.

    >> reporter: lester , paul ryan and republicans in the house would get there in their debt reduction plan by making what are already controversial changes to medicare. democrats are calling it a privatization scheme. one thing everyone can agree on, unless fundamental changes are made to those entitlement programs , medicare and medicaid , that reduction will not happen. lester ?

updated 4/9/2011 6:52:59 PM ET 2011-04-09T22:52:59

President Barack Obama promised to change Washington's ways. Yet he is as caught up in them as ever.

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It was just at the start of this week that Obama launched his re-election bid with a sunny video of real people talking about their hopes and needs. It was the very image of life outside Washington politics.

By week's end, Obama was mired in budget negotiations, canceling trips and scrambling to hold off a government shutdown that would surely erode the public's faith in his leadership.

That's the messy business of governing. And this is how it is going to be this time around for incumbent Obama.

Beyond the vision for economic competitiveness he wants to talk about, Obama is seeking a second term while having to engage in the gritty, frustrating process of governing a deeply divided government. He got bogged down in legislative tactics in his first two years, even when he won fights like health care, and is now trying to avoid all that.

Then came this test of leadership. The White House says Obama ultimately got the compromise he wanted — a bill of spending cuts that he supported without having to gut his priorities or swallow policy changes he could not accept. When it all finally came together, the administration offered it up as an example of cooperation under the highest stress.

But it was an exhausting process that left people wondering why the government was somehow on the brink of debacle.

This is change?

The showdown serves as a reminder that for all the powers that come with the presidency, one of the perils is an agenda you cannot control. Crises like Libya, Egypt, Japan's earthquake, Iraq and Afghanistan all demand his attention.

Obama in the fray
In this case, the new House Republican majority, led by Speaker John Boehner, turned a must-pass budget bill into a political chance to give voice to frustrated voters and Tea Party conservatives who demanded spending cuts. And suddenly Washington was back in brinkmanship mode again, where nothing gets done until deadline. And sometimes not even then.

In public, Obama tried to keep it at arm's length.

"I shouldn't have to oversee a process in which Congress deals with last year's budget," Obama said as the time got short this week.

But in fact he was involved up to his neck.

Interactive: Budget brinkmanship (on this page)

It was Obama's veto threat that made clear he would not accept the scope of spending cuts Republicans wanted. It was Obama who said he would accept no more short-term bills to keep the government afloat for a couple weeks at a time unless there was a broader deal in hand. And it was Obama who kept saying it was time for leaders to act like grown-ups.

The White House said his strategy was to stay behind the scenes, work the phones and let his senior aides do the negotiating. That hard-to-see engagement provided a huge opening for Republicans to question his leadership. And it led to rumblings from frustrated lawmakers in his own Democratic Party who wanted Obama to openly attack the cuts Republicans wanted.

The White House figured it would take those hits. In the midst of this conflict and other challenges, a Gallup poll in late March found that an eroding number of people said Obama was a strong and decisive leader: A little more than half of those polled, down from 60 percent one year ago and 73 percent two years ago.

The West Wing thinking was that a better result would come if Obama did not try to overheat the issue. They also believed that people across the nation were worried about gas prices, not a messy political squabble over a spending bill and that the voters didn't hire Obama to be a legislator. Obama would go public when it meant the most.

The vocal version of the president emerged on Tuesday.

He said Americans don't want games but rather results, the pragmatic approach. That's the style White House strategists believe will bring back the election-turning independents to Obama. He spoke like a leader who had world troubles on his mind and demanded feuding lawmakers to keep working.

"There are some things we can't control," he said. "We can't control earthquakes; we can't control tsunamis; we can't control uprisings on the other side of the world. What we can control is our capacity to have a reasoned, fair conversation between the parties and get the business of the American people done."

But it wasn't getting done, and his voice was not the only one setting the tone.

Blame game
"The president isn't leading," Boehner said Wednesday. "He didn't lead on last year's budget, and he clearly is not leading on this year's budget."

Obama met with Boehner and Reid four times in the White House across the week. He kept his plans to travel to the Philadelphia area on Wednesday to talk about energy, looking comfortable and almost carefree as he laughed with workers at a wind-turbine company about their families and their cars.

Yet by Friday, Washington had sucked him back in. He canceled a trip to Indianapolis, scrapping the attention he wanted to give to clean energy.

And then he jettisoned a scheduled weekend getaway with his family to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia while he kept in touch with Boehner and Reid.

While striving to avoid a shutdown, Obama's team privately thought they would come out OK in the public's mind if it came to that.

Video: Obama: US govt. is ‘open for business’

The thinking was that the president had presented a reasonable case of agreeing to spending cuts without going too far, and that people would frown upon Republicans if the government stopped fully running over an unrelated policy conflict like abortion.

One Gallup poll found that 58 percent of adults, and 60 percent of independents, favored a budget compromise over a shutdown.

But another reality lurked for Obama.

The politics-saturated budget battle graphically demonstrates how government is not supposed to operate. No matter who is to blame, all will be blamed.

The everyday Americans Obama talks about so often just want a Washington that works. That means staying open for business.

And for incumbents with opponents who run the House, it can mean getting encumbered by Washington, once again.

White House Correspondent Ben Feller has covered the Bush and Obama presidencies for The Associated Press.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Interactive: Budget brinkmanship


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