Obama's patience irksome but often effective 

President Obama has dipped his toe in a pool of contentious policies -- tax breaks, a health care overhaul, allowing gays in the military and, most recently, entitlement reform -- opting to quietly cobble together coalitions instead of issuing decrees.

And the strategy of patience and negotiation, so far, has produced a series of feathers in his political cap -- just not on the time frame demanded by others. While the president was widely criticized for punting on politically unpopular decisions in his latest budget proposal, Obama continues to point to his track record in brokering deals to achieve his agenda.

Obama is once again gambling that his patience will eventually pay off in securing deep cuts in the nation's budget deficit by reforming Medicare and Medicaid and eliminating tax loopholes that have helped drive up the federal government's budget deficits.

"I've had this conversation for the last two years about every single issue that we worked on, whether it was health care or "don't ask, don't tell," on Egypt, right?" Obama said, deflecting criticism that he was too passive. "So I think that there's a tendency for us to assume that if it didn't happen today it's not going to happen."

But if anything, the laid-back style Obama projects publicly clashes with his ambitious calls for historic change that his predecessors avoided. He called on Congress to rein in entitlement spending to prove it's serious about reducing the deficit, then submitted a $3.7 trillion budget that failed to address any of those wallet-draining program, saying he would work out issues like Social Security and Medicare in later negotiations.

"Your true believers would prefer to go down fighting and lose," said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. "But with divided government, you may end up drawing your line in the sand and have nothing to show for it."

White House press secretary Jay Carney, making his debut briefing Wednesday, defended the budget approach, calling entitlement change "a hard nut to crack" and insisting that Obama is a president who has "done big things."

Obama on Wednesday met with Senate Democratic leaders, who embraced his call for a five-year freeze in domestic discretionary spending -- a move that would save $400 billion over the next decade but is still just a fraction of the overall deficit.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also returned to Capitol Hill Wednesday to defend the president's budget, telling lawmakers that a drastic, immediate spending cut could hamper economic recovery.

But Obama risks public backlash from voters who have increasingly demanded that politicians take a machete to the federal budget.

A new Rasmussen poll, for example, found that 55 percent of likely voters believe the president's budget cuts too little.

For the most part, Obama has been given a pass by many progressives, who say the president deserves credit for political victories no matter how torpid the pace.

"While the process has been slower than any advocate would like," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights' advocacy group, "we judge success by success."

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian Hughes

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