Sixty-four Senators (32 Democrats and 32 Republicans) sent a letter to President Obama that said the following:
As the Administration continues to work with Congressional leadership regarding our current budget situation, we write to inform you that we believe comprehensive deficit reduction measures are imperative and to ask you to support a broad approach to solving the problem...
By approaching these negotiations comprehensively, with a strong signal of support from you, we believe that we can achieve consensus on these important fiscal issues. This would send a powerful message to Americans that Washington can work together to tackle this critical issue.
First of all, as Ezra Klein points out, Obama has already signaled support on this:
If vague statements about “a broad approach to solving the problem” could solve the problem, the problem would be solved. It would’ve been done during the president’s post-budget press conference, when he said “we can get Social Security done in the same way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were able to get it done” and agreed that “Medicare and Medicaid are huge problems...that I’m prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to start dealing with that in a serious way.” That sounds like a “signal of support” to me, and it should be plenty to get the Senate going on a deficit plan -- if, indeed, that’s something a supermajority of senators are actually interested in doing.
But even more important is what Steven Benen has to say:
I can appreciate the unique role the President of the United States plays as a sole chief executive, but Congress is its own branch of government. Senators, especially a massive, bipartisan group of 64, have the power to sit down, negotiate, and craft a policy that would achieve the goal these members ostensibly want to reach. If a consensus could be reached, it'd be filibuster-proof.
But instead of choosing to work on their desired outcome, they chose to write a letter, asking President Obama to endorse work on their desired outcome.
Presumably, the next step will be calls for additional "leadership," from those who aren't interested in demonstrating any leadership.
Absolutely!!! If these 64 Senators sat down and worked on legislation rather than a letter, they have a super-majority that could pass it. So why are they looking to President Obama to do their job?
We all know the answer to that, don't we? Because its politically dangerous to address issues like Medicare and Social Security. But as Klein says,
The reality is that the White House can’t write the bill on Congress’s behalf. It can’t pass the bill through Congress. And it can’t kill the bill Congress pases if the bill has a veto-proof majority. Obama could be doing more to move public opinion, but on this issue, the empowered actor is the legislative branch, not the executive branch. And the legislative branch should begin acting like it.
If this issue is a priority, at some point Congress is going to have to figure out how to work together to produce legislation and it will get ugly. Simply passing that off to Obama is not leadership - its just an attempt to pass the buck.