On the same day that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was taking steps to jump-start bipartisan talks to avert a government shutdown, President Barack Obama was in Florida trying to jump-start something else: his 2012 re-election campaign.
While there may be 609 days to go until the presidential election, Obama has already begun reverting to campaign mode — and some Democrats are starting to worry that their most important ally won’t be there when they need him the most on Capitol Hill.
The president has made noticeable overtures in the past week to remind people that he is as much the commander in chief as he is a candidate up for re-election: Tonight, Obama is heading a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dinner with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in Boston; on Friday, he headlined separate fundraisers in Miami for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. During those events, he ticked off his accomplishments from the past two years and said his supporters were the reason he has seen success.
“Because of your help, we yanked this economy out of what could have been a Great Depression. Because of your help, we passed the historic health care bill. Because of your help, we ended ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ ... That’s because of you,” he told the crowd.
“I need you to do it again,” Obama continued. “We don’t just want your money. We want your time and we want your energy. We want your ideas. We want you passionate about this being important.”
A few days earlier, the president made his biggest concession yet to Republicans on health care reform when, at a lunch for the National Governors Association, he unexpectedly announced that he backs legislation to give states flexibility in rolling out reforms. Obama also aligned himself with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — a potential GOP presidential rival — in his support for state flexibility.
“I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions. He’s right. Alabama is not going to have exactly the same needs as Massachusetts or California or North Dakota,” Obama said Monday.
The president’s fresh focus on his re-election comes as Congress is looking for help negotiating a budget deal that if left unresolved would force a government shutdown. Both parties have put forward proposals to keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year, but the two sides are about $50 billion apart and nobody appears willing to give.
Reid announced Friday that he will try to break the impasse by holding test votes today on the competing Republican and Democratic spending plans. Both are expected to fail, but he said he hopes they can serve as a starting point for negotiations.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.