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Congressional Democrats are welcoming President Barack Obamas reliance on retail politics over hardline directives to sell his agenda on Capitol Hill, even though they acknowledge his approach creates greater headaches for them than it does for him.
In his two months in office, Obama has aggressively pursued broad policy changes and ramped up government spending to address the nations economic woes. But his administration has only issued one formal Statement of Administration Policy to outline his position, on a largely noncontroversial bill to boost national service programs.
Even though Congress has taken the brunt of public criticism for policy missteps particularly on the $787 billion economic stimulus and a bill designed to recover executive bonuses handed out by Wall Street bailout recipients Senators said they were pleased with Obamas decision to give the Congress room to create the policy.
SAPs outline a presidents position on legislation and often lay out strict parameters for what the administration will accept. They also serve as the vehicle for official presidential veto threats.
I think the president has done a good job of allowing Congress to be Congress, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said. It is not the presidents job and its not his responsibility, and he has no authority to manage Congress. Now I think he has met with enough people where on almost every issue its reasonably clear what the White House believes should be the policy. Sometimes it comes out afterward and sometimes it comes out in advance, but he does a good job communicating.
Democratic sources close to the White House said the administration is still in the process of trying to decide when it will formally weigh in on legislation and when it wants to give Congressional Democrats a longer leash. But they acknowledge that so far the administration has erred on the side of giving Congress room to run.
One source said the White House wants to make sure that any SAP is as meaningful as possible and as constructive as possible, while noting that flooding Congress with SAPs often diminishes their impact.
But in Obamas first SAP, the administration is unlikely to make any lasting impressions. While the documents are usually used to urge Congress to make changes to legislation, the SAP for the national service bill is effusive in its praise of the measure, repeatedly using words like pleased and applauds in relation to Congress efforts.
In the meantime, Obama has relied on his public statements, bipartisan cocktail parties, private White House meetings with key lawmakers and regular appearances on Capitol Hill to sell his big-ticket items. A White House spokeswoman did not respond to repeated attempts for comment Tuesday.
However, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who was treated to one of those private meetings with the president during the recent stimulus debate, said a lack of a clear direction from the White House could pose problems in the future for Democrats. Snowe said she has privately advised the president to model his coalition-building on Capitol Hill after former Republican President Ronald Reagan, who had to deal with a Democratic-led Congress in the 1980s.