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Obama turns to charm offensive to counter public indifference of budget sequester

Published: Wednesday, March 13 2013 10:34 a.m. MDT

One of President Barack Obama's motorcade vehicles is seen parked in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington, Tuesday, March 12, 2013. Obama traveled to Capitol Hill to visit with Senate Democrats in the first of four meetings with lawmakers this week to discuss the budget.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

New poll shows that most Americans remain unconvinced that the automatic budget cuts that kicked in last week will negatively impact their lives or the economy as a whole.

Meanwhile, the White House is attempting to pivot from budget conflict to charm, wining and dining congressional Republicans, last week having lunch with Obama's chief antagonist, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

The outreach to Republican congressmen comes a bit late in the day, reports Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post. Eilperin highlights the experience of Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, one of the first Republicans who supported a compromise on the fiscal cliff, and who had good dealings with the White House in the early Obama years, but of late has had no contact at all.

“They can’t possibly be getting good intelligence, because they’re not talking to enough people,” Cole told Eilperin. Cole has spoken to many Republicans who would be key to any compromise, and the story was the same. “Have you heard from anybody in the Obama administration? No, not me.”

The new charm offensive follows an effort to tag Republicans with the responsibility for the lack of compromise on the automatic budget cuts.

Given the low poll standing of Congress, the Obama White House expected Republicans to take the hit on the sequester. But a new McClatchy-Marist poll shows the president's approval rating falling sharply, and the public skeptical about whether the cuts will have a negative impact.

The poll shows an even split as to how the cuts will affect the economy. Forty-seven percent think the cuts will have a negative impact, but 27 percent expect no effect, while 20 percent expect a positive effect.

Most independents do not expect the cuts to affect them personally, 52 percent expecting no effect, 39 percent expecting a negative effect and 7 percent expecting a positive effect. Republicans split 52-36-8 on the same question.

And then there are the Democrats. "Democrats are evenly split," McClatchy reports, "41-41 on whether the cuts will be negative or have no impact on their families. In a surprise, 14 percent of Democrats expect a positive impact for themselves, well more than independents or Republicans."

"Obama’s sudden burst of public outreach coincides with a drop in his approval ratings," wrote Ron Fournier at National Journal, "noted first by Democratic pollsters advising the White House last week and now surfacing in a spate of public polls."

"This was predictable," Fournier continued. "The White House was warned by Democratic allies in Congress and on K Street that, fair or not, voters ultimately punish presidents for malfeasance in Washington. Even more jarring than Obama's lack of engagement was his public protestations that there was nothing he could do to strike a deal with the GOP. 'It made him look weak,' said a Democratic strategist with close ties to the White House. 'It made him look — can I used this word? — impotent.’ ”

The poll is not all good news for Republicans, with majorities still favoring tax increases rather than cuts to entitlements. By 60-33, voters prefer to raise taxes than cut Social Security; by 57-36 they prefer to raise taxes than cut Medicare; and by 50-42 they prefer to raise taxes than cut Medicaid.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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