When former Obama administration Defense Secretary Leon Panetta dared to criticize his old boss’ handling of the government shutdown, a group of Washington political reporters were there to leap to President Barack Obama’s defense.
“You have to engage in the process,” Panetta said, criticizing Obama at a Monday breakfast sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, according to an account by liberal Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. “This is a town where it’s not enough to feel you have the right answers. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and you’ve got to really engage in the process … that’s what governing is all about.”
This propelled some political reporters in the room to justify Obama’s lack of leadership, reports Marcus.
“To some extent, the reporters in the room seemed more forgiving of the circumstances in which the president finds himself,” she wrote. “Jackie Calmes of The New York Times noted that the Panetta-envisioned budget deal was illusory because Republicans refuse to consider new tax revenue. Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times observed that the White House would argue that its previous efforts at schmoozing and deal-making had fizzled.”
Panetta, who also served as CIA director under Obama, is an expert in budget negotiations from his experience serving as chief of staff and director of the Office of of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton, and as chairman of the House Budget Committee when he served as a Democratic representative in Congress. According to Marcus, he pushed back against the reporters’ justifications for the president’s failure to come to a budget deal with Republicans.
“Just because you’ve engaged in some set of negotiations and they haven’t gone anywhere — for one reason or another there’s been a breakdown — is no reason to walk away from the table,” he reportedly said. “In this town, you’ve got to stay with it. You’ve got to stay at it.”
According to Marucs, Panetta dismissed the idea of creating “some razzle-dazzle supercommittee” to solve the budgetary impasse, arguing that the key players need to be locked in a room until they come to a solution.
“If the president, for whatever reason, feels he can’t do it because the Republicans don’t want to confront him, then he ought to be willing to delegate that responsibility to someone who can do it,” Panetta reportedly concluded.