A new element of tension has emerged between the Obama White House and Democratic leaders in Congress.
It is not the president’s continued demand for a health care overhaul, a priority the leaders share. Nor is it Mr. Obama’s decision to call out liberals on the need for spending restraint in his State of the Union address.
Rather it is the White House decision to spotlight unsavory legislative maneuvering as a cause of voter anger. Rather than the specifics of his health care policies, Obama aides argue, Americans reject back-room self-dealing by lawmakers and lobbyists.
“A messy process,” Mr. Obama acknowledged to House Republicans last week, referring to the health care fight. In his State of the Union speech, the president confessed, “With all of the lobbying and horse trading, the process left most Americans wondering, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”
Without the help of Republicans, Democratic leaders respond, that messy process is the only way to amass the votes needed to pass Mr. Obama’s ambitious agenda. “The American people don’t care about process,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told journalists last week.
Her comments underscore the greatest contradiction within Mr. Obama’s agenda — not too many legislative priorities, but the difficulty of achieving them in the civics-textbook fashion he espouses.
Bread, Butter and Pork
Candidate Obama’s pledge to change Washington, echoing reform-minded predecessors like Gary Hart and Bill Bradley, won applause from affluent Democrats and independents in the primaries. His rival Hillary Rodham Clinton countered by promising bread-and-butter benefits for working-class voters.
As president, Mr. Obama has emphasized bread and butter. He accepted a budget bill with special-purpose “earmarks,” won a $787 billion stimulus package and put health care atop his crowded agenda. (CONTINUES HERE)