There is no case to make that President Obama is showing leadership to facilitate an agreement and make sure the fiscal cliff is avoided. I don't think he is shirking a leadership role because he doesn't know how to lead, I think it is because he doesn't want to lead. If The White House wanted to get something done, things would look very different in Washington right now.
Let's review the bidding so far. The president and congressional leaders have had one meeting — where the only result was a staged photo and birthday wishes for Speaker Boehner — and there may have been a stray phone call or two between Obama and Boehner as well. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who will be leaving his job as soon as he can, went to Capitol Hill briefly, and the president has held some campaign-style scripted events outside of Washington. And White House press secretary Jay Carney has said the administration doesn't believe the problem will be solved by actually conducting meetings between congressional leaders and Obama's team. Carney was apparently speaking the truth.
When short-timer Geithner spent 45 minutes meeting with congressional leaders yesterday, he was presenting an "offer" from the president that is surreal and could only be meant to delay any real discussions. The "offer" doesn't address the fiscal cliff problem. It is mostly a rehash of a failed Obama budget that calls for the usual taxing and spending. Like Geithner, the president's allies in Congress are taunting and insulting Republicans and demanding specifics and concessions while they offer none of their own. And the only thing the president has said about entitlement spending is that we have to "take a serious look at how we reform our entitlements." When someone in Washington says they are going to "look at" your problem, that is code for, "I'm not going to do one thing to help you; this meeting is over." At a political level, the president is not in bad shape. If a deal is reached that is to his liking, that would be great. If there is no deal, and we go over the cliff, that would be okay — and even better if he is able to place the blame on Republicans. Most of the activity to date appears to be more focused on placing blame than on reaching an agreement. The Democrats even appear to be celebrating their position; they can't contain their glee that they win if Republicans cave and they win if we go over the cliff. How else do you explain their lack of engagement or serious dialogue?
The bottom line is that there doesn't appear to be a process — or even the necessary dialogue — in place to produce an agreement. The 2012 campaign, which was largely about job creation, seems like a hundred years ago. No one is talking about how to achieve economic growth or doing anything to create a single job. If there is to be a deal on the fiscal cliff, it looks like it will be at the 11th hour, and it will be a band-aid. Call me a pessimistic cynic, but nothing that has happened so far should lead anyone to think that our nation's budget or the overall economy will be made stronger by events in Washington.