Obama’s “Political Capital”

An even hoarier meme than the no-win-war complaint is naturally emerging in Washington as everyone recalibrates his or her assumptions about how the year will end: Obama’s limited “political capital” that he might have used on the fiscal front will now be “spread thin” or “stretched to the breaking point” by the need to make a case for military action against Syria. Politico‘s Brown and Sherman give it a full airing today:

President Barack Obama faced a heavy lift in Congress this fall when his agenda included only budget issues and immigration reform.

Now with Syria in the mix, the president appears ready to spend a lot of the political capital that he would have kept in reserve for his domestic priorities.

A resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria won’t make it through the House or the Senate without significant cajoling from the White House. That means Obama, who struggles to get Congress to follow his lead on almost everything, could burn his limited leverage convincing Democrats and Republicans to vote for an unpopular military operation that even the president says he could carry out with or without their approval.

Now this may be true with respect to congressional Democrats if Obama ultimately needs them to swallow hard and accept some fiscal deal to avoid a government shutdown or debt default. But seriously, what sort of “political capital” does the president have with congressional Republicans? They committed to a policy of total obstruction from the day he became president and picked up right where they had left off the day he was re-elected. Obama’s only options in dealing with the GOP are to offer them cover for compromise when he must and hand them an anvil to speed their self-destruction when he can. But he has no “political capital” to spend.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.