Joe Biden sidelined while Obama tries to block budget compromise

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Vice President Joe Biden is being allowed back into the White House, after a weekend exile in the Maryland hills while President Barack Obama maintains his no-compromise political strategy.

Biden’s absence is important because he played a critical role in brokering a deal that ended the city’s most recent budget impasse, the December 2012 “fiscal cliff” budget battle. He’s been sidelined ever since, partly because Senate Democrats disliked the deal that Biden struck with the GOP’s Senate leader.

Biden’s weekend far from Washington was quietly announced Friday by his office in a brief “weekend guidance” for reporters. “Saturday, October 12 – Monday, October 14, 2013; The Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden will be at Camp David. There are no public events scheduled,” said the email.

Biden returns Monday afternoon, in time to join a White House meeting of the government principals — President Barack Obama and the top two Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate.

But there’s no sign that Obama or top Democrats want him to play the deal-closing role that he played in December.

That’s a loss for Biden, who is far less of a progressive ideologue than Obama, and who is racing for the 2016 Democratic nomination against Obama’s presumed successor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The vice president’s absence was highlighted Oct. 13 by Sen. John McCain, the swing-voting senator from Arizona. “Maybe we need to get Joe Biden out of the witness protection program… [because] I’m very disappointed the president of the United States has not played a more active role” in trying to settle the budget impasse, McCain told CBS’ Sunday show, “Face the Nation.”

Biden crafted the December deal after he was called by the top GOP leader in the Senate. “With just 35 hours left, there was a phone message for Vice President Biden. … An hour later, after [Biden got approval from] President Obama, Biden called back. He heard a familiar drawl: ‘Does anyone down there know how to make a deal?” Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate’s top Republican, wanted to know, according to a Jan. 2 article in The Washington Post.

“That phone call — the first of at least 13 between the two longtime statesmen — set in motion what became the ugly, unsatisfying last-minute conclusion of the ‘fiscal cliff’ crisis … [and] also ended a self-inflicted, nationally televised psychological experiment on Congress,” the Post article declared.

The December deal sharply boosted Biden’s visibility in D.C. — the Post called him a “statesman” — but was bitterly denounced by Senate Democrats, who thought Biden could have won bigger concessions from the GOP.

Since December, Obama and the Senate Democrats’ leader, Sen. Harry Reid, have minimized Biden’s role while they try to use the budget impasse to crack the GOP coalition in the long run-up to the critical 2014 election.

Currently, Obama is demanding the GOP agree to raise the $16.7 trillion government debt limit, and reopen the government for several weeks, while also refusing to accept any of the GOP’s proposals for trimming federal spending or reforming the unpopular and troubled Obamacare program.

Simultaneously, Democrats are demanding the GOP agree to lift federal spending above the current sequester plan, set in 2011 and reaffirmed in December.

Since Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, taxpayer debt has jumped by at least $6 trillion.

Currently, the federal government’s tab amounts to roughly $55,000 per American, or $100,000 for every American in the workforce.

Throughout the impasse, Obama has used the Democratic-leaning established media to blame the GOP for the budget stand-off.

On Saturday, for example, the White House’s press office announced that Obama was told that four of the five highest-status scientists at the National Institutes of Health are furloughed.

The four “Nobel Prize-winning researchers currently working for the federal government, all of whom are world-renowned scientists and leaders in their field … [are] unable to conduct their federal research on behalf of the American public due to the government shutdown,” claimed the press release.

In fact, on Oct. 2, the GOP majority in the House introduced a $29 billion bill to fund the NIH. The bill, H.J. Res. 73, or “The Research for Lifesaving Cures Act,” was quickly passed, with help from only 25 House Democrats, and sent to the Senate on Oct. 3.

Since then, the bill has been blocked by Reid, the leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate.

Obama explained his all-or-nothing policy Oct. 8, saying approval of funding for individual agencies would reduce the media-magnified political pressure on the GOP to fund his priorities.

“If there’s no political heat, if there’s no television story [about spending cutbacks ad furloughs] then nothing happens,” Obama told reporters during a White House press conference.

“If we do some sort of shotgun approach [when individual agencies are funded via small-scale budget bills] … then you’ll have some programs that are highly visible get funded and reopened — like national monuments — but things that don’t get a lot of attention — like those [federal Small Business Administration] loans — not being funded,” he complained.

The SBA provides roughly $1 billion in loans to small companies each month, extending government clout and patronage further into the business sector.

Republican legislators have denounced Obama and the Democrats for blocking the NIH funding bill, but the establishment media has mostly tried to blame the GOP for Obama’s hard-line stance.

An Oct. 13 article in The Hill, for example, cited the White House’s Oct. 11 press release about the Nobel prizewinners, but did not mention the Democrats’ decision to block the House bill.

“Four of five Nobel Prize winners now in the employ of the federal government have been furloughed, as research grinds to a halt at agencies darkened by the lingering shutdown, the White House said,” The Hill reported.

The Washington Post and The New York Times did not publicize, nor did they refute, Obama’s Saturday release about the furloughed NIH researchers.

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Neil Munro