For Obama, silver linings in dark clouds

President Obama is having a horrible start to his summer.

The commander in chief is under siege from Congress on his Libya military intervention, he took flak from both sides over his decision to pull 10,000 troops out of Afghanistan and his approval numbers are mediocre at best, even after the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. 

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To make matters worse, debt-limit talks led by Vice President Biden froze up last week, leaving Obama with about a month to convince Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and stop what economist Mark Zandi on Tuesday said could be another recession. 

But for the ever-optimistic Obama team, there is a silver lining in the dark clouds that have haunted the White House so far this summer. 

No matter how it seems this summer, with possible GOP candidates for president emerging each week, the presidential election is not until next November. Obama still has a year to turn things around.

The debt-ceiling talks represent an opportunity for the president to lead, and there’s reason to think a successful negotiation could turn things around for both the economy and the White House.

If the president can make a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit while trimming $2 trillion to $2.5 trillion in spending, Wall Street will take notice. The deal would offer proof that Washington isn’t completely broken, and the economy could even get a boost from rising confidence. 

Weeks ago, the leaders of the Business Roundtable said their members remain confident in the U.S. economy, adding that a debt deal could do wonders. 

The details in such a deal are important, but even more important for the White House is the deal itself.

The president, who has given up rolling back the Bush tax rates for the wealthy as part of the deal, might have to take it on the chin a few more times, and accept some concessions to Republicans. 

But if he gets a deal, he gets a win. And if the president has demonstrated anything with consistency since taking office, it’s that he values the deal above all else. 

If Obama gets a deal, he gets another bipartisan compromise to put in his stump speech. 

If Obama gets a deal, he gets to again look like the grown-up in Washington.

If Obama gets a deal, he gets to call himself a dealmaker, which could attract all-important independent voters to his camp next fall. 

The economy could also move an inch, giving Obama some wiggle room for the rest of 2011 and leaving him in a stronger position for 2012. 

Of course, if Obama doesn’t get a deal, the economy implodes and with it goes his chances of reelection. But if recent history is any guide, Obama will get a deal. 

He’ll get roasted by the professional left and labor unions for sacrificing Democratic principles. Republicans will blast him for not cutting enough.

But Democratic strategists believe voters will see a president focused on results. 

“If President Obama is able to reach an agreement that a majority of Americans believe is fair, it’s a clear win both for him and, frankly, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress,” said Democratic strategist Karen Finney, also a columnist for The Hill.

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It would also allow Obama to pivot to talking exclusively about job creation.

“There he enjoys a huge advantage, because he wants to invest in education, technology and renewable energy, while the Republicans are arguing not only to extend the Bush tax cuts but for even more tax cuts tilted to the wealthy,” said Democratic strategist Steve Murphy. “Independent voters are in favor of both cutting spending and ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.” 

Obama is not going to get everything he wants. Repealing the Bush tax rates has been a central tenet of Democratic presidential campaigns since the rates passed, and the White House has clearly signaled that it is jettisoning them again in an effort to get a deal. 

But there’s another silver lining: By not getting everything he wants, Obama gets another tried and tested campaign pitch. 

Of course, all this hinges on the “if” of getting a deal.

And if a deal isn’t reached and the economy descends into chaos and calamity, as the White House is warning, then all bets are off. Obama and his Republican foils will have plenty of time on the lecture circuit after 2012 to talk about what could have been.

 Find his column, Obama’s Bid for Reelection, on thehill.com


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