You don’t need to be much of a political tactician to decipher the theory behind Obama’s budget: The American people hate big government in the abstract, but reliably dig in their heels when confronted with specific reductions in government services and subsidies. So the key to political success for Obama is to make the Republican House do the heavy lifting in proposing specific spending cuts provoking outraged howls from Democratic congressmen. Then Obama steps in at the last minute as a grownup refereeing a spat among partisan children who could use a lesson in civic responsibility. That's supposed to result in the most liberal outcome that's politically viable.
No surprise there. Pretending to stand above the partisan fray is Obama’s signature move, the same one he used with respect to ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank when Democrats enjoyed substantial majorities in both the House and the Senate. Notice, however, that it's nothing like the political strategy Bill Clinton perfected after the 1994 midterms. He was perfectly happy to be the Democrat most visibly mixing it up with Newt Gingrich in the expectation that, if independent voters were forced to choose sides, they’d gravitate toward him. Clinton never had any trouble taking his own side in the central political arguments of his day.
I’m not the guy to tell you whether Obama’s above-the-fray strategy will work. But I have my doubts when I see congressional testimony from high-ranking administration officials playing out like this: