It is quite possible that the Obama team and Democratic Senate leadership learned the wrong lesson from the Clinton years. Then, with the economy humming along he could lure Speaker Newt Gingrich into “going first” on the budget, decry its extremism and then come with a ”compromise” that preserved Democrats’ policy objectives. But that worked in a specific context. With the economy limping and widespread concern about the debt, it’s not enough to stall or outsource leadership.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who has been hammering on the president and Senate Democrats, responded to my request for comment on nervous Democrats rethinking the strategy of foregoing their own budget. He told me:

“I believe there is a growing unease on both sides of the aisle concerning the closed door negotiations between the Vice President and just four members. Perhaps there is also a growing realization that the American people expect us to do our work in the open, not in secret.”

And if, as many Republicans believe Biden can’t broker a deal and the Democrats still have no budget, who do you think the voters will regard as irresponsible? We already have a clue from the latest CNN poll:

President Barack Obama’s overall approval rating has dropped below 50 percent as a growing number of Americans worry that the U.S. is likely to slip into another Great Depression within the next 12 months, according to a new national poll. . . . .

Forty-eight percent of people questioned say they approve of how the president is handling his duties in the White House, down six points from late May. An equal 48 percent say they disapprove of how Obama’s performing, up three points from late last month.

Certainly some of this is the fading Osama bin Laden bump. But the speed with which that blip has disappeared and the singular focus on the economy is bad news for the president. (“According to the survey, more than eight in ten Americans say that the economy is in poor shape, a number that has stubbornly remained at that level since March. Not surprisingly, with that much economic angst, the economy is the number one issue, the only one that more than half of the public says will be extremely important to their vote for president next year.”)

When the president loses steam his congressional co-partisans are likely to begin to fend for themselves. That may mean a budget for the Senate Democrats, finally. In any event so long as Obama’s approval ratings are headed downward, he is going to find it increasingly difficult to garner support from Senate and House Democrats who are beginning to wonder whether 2010 (like 2006 for the Republicans) was a prelude to an even worse election.