They were all smiles in the Capitol as President Obama and Democratic leaders stood shoulder to shoulder with John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell for the unveiling of a Rosa Park statue.
But the ceremony on Wednesday was a brief respite from an increasingly heated budget battle in which, if the polls are any indication, the Republicans are taking a beating. The automatic budget cuts that no one likes but no one seems able to avoid take effect Friday, so we are about to be knee-deep in sequester squabbling.
In a Washington Post/ABC poll, 67 percent disapprove of the way that Republicans are handling federal spending. Obama’s 52 percent disapproval rating looks better only by comparison.
But here’s the killer for the GOP: Fifty-one percent of Republicans deliver a negative verdict on their party’s handling of the spending issue.
In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, just 29 percent say they agree with what the Republicans want to do in Congress, compared with 45 percent who agree with Obama’s agenda.
As for divisiveness, 22 percent say the GOP is trying to unify the country, compared with 48 percent who say that of Obama and 37 percent who hold that view of the Democratic Party.
So the president is winning the argument, no question about it. But that could change.
Obama is meeting with GOP leaders at the White House on Friday, but that is also the day the deep cutbacks take effect. As the impasse drags on, as it is likely to do, the president, with his bigger megaphone, may continue to hold the upper hand.
But if there are furloughs, airline delays, rising unemployment, national park restrictions and more immigration detainees released, the public may quickly move into pox-on-both-your-houses territory. Obama is clearly more popular than his opposition, but it may not take long for voters to start wondering why he hasn’t been able to resolve what he rightly calls a manufactured crisis.