Comparing Obama and Clinton’s Leadership in Congressional Budget Debates

I (along with most of you reading this post, I’m sure) followed last summer’s debt-ceiling debate particularly closely. While the debate featured many familiar economic and ethical considerations about raising the debt-ceiling, there is no doubt that that magnitude of the debate in Congress, and the ensuing consequences of that debate, were unprecedented.

What I also found interesting were the comparisons being made between President Obama’s conflict with House Republicans over raising the debt-ceiling and President Clinton’s standoff with House Republicans over the Budget in 1995. On the surface, both conflicts bare many similarities; a Democratic President in his first term pitted against an newly-elected, ideological majority opposition in the House over issues of major economic and financial significance. Both debates also came with serious consequences, with two government shutdowns resulting from one and the first-ever downgrade of the US’s AAA credit rating from the other.

But for my paper, I want to uncover the major dissimilarities in President Clinton and Obama’s leadership tactics and personalities as they related to the conflicts. How did Clinton and Obama approach the conflicts uniquely, and deploy different tactics in negotiating with House Republicans? What realities in the Legislature, or personality traits on behalf of the Executives themselves played the biggest roles in determining their different leadership styles? How were Clinton and Obama both able to avoid much of the blame in the aftermath of their conflicts? Can a comparison of these two cases reveal a dramatic shift in how Congress operates, or simply fundamental differences between two Democratic Presidents? These are the questions I hope to answer in my paper.

I have been interested in Congress for many years. I was fortunate enough to actually work for the House as a Congressional Page during my junior year of high school. I’m sure researching this topic and writing my paper will be a great way to revisit the Chamber I worked in almost five years ago. This paper focusing on Executive-Legislative relations will be a subset of my senior honors thesis, which will focus more on the role of Freshman Republican Congressman in these two conflicts.

 Comments and advice are greatly appreciated! I can’t wait to meet you all in November.

-Katie Smith, Hofstra University

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