Updated 12:23 p.m. Eastern Time
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia took to the Senate floor Tuesday morning to criticize President Obama for a failure of leadership in the effort to deal with the deficit and debt.
Manchin deemed the two budget proposals expected to be considered Tuesday - a Democratic plan containing $6.5 billion in new cuts and a Republican plan to cut about $60 billion - flawed. The former, he said, "doesn't go nearly far enough" to address the nation's fiscal woes, while the latter "blindly hacks the budget with no sense of our priorities or of our values as a country."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is bringing both proposals up for a vote even though neither is expected to pass; he says he wants to get the votes on the record and show that compromise is necessary. Manchin denounced the strategy as "political theater," asking, "why are we voting on partisan proposals that we know will fail, that we know don't balance our nation's priorities with the need to get our fiscal house in order?"
Manchin, who is facing a tough reelection campaign in 2012, then went after the president.
"Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations - our president - has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for?" asked Manchin. "How does that make sense?"
He went on to say that "this debate will be decided when the president leads these tough negotiations. And, right now that's not happening."
"The bottom line is this - the president is the leader of this great nation, and when it comes to an issue of significant national importance, the president must lead. Not the majority leader or speaker, but the president," the West Virginia Democrat said. "He must sit down with leaders of both parties and help hammer out a real bipartisan compromise that moves our nation forward and establishes the priorities that represent our values and all hard-working families."
Manchin added: "I truly believe that he can do it."
CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes called it significant that Manchin went after Mr. Obama both harshly and repeatedly.
"Outside of Anthony Weiner and maybe Joe Lieberman, that's just not something you hear very often from a member of the president's own party," she said. "And in Weiner's case, he's pushing the president to be more liberal -- not more conservative. You could say that Manchin's remarks aren't a huge surprise given the lack of fondness for Obama in West Virginia, but that in itself is part of the story: the new political reality after the last election, which left many democrats eager to put some distance between themselves and Mr. Obama."
Even before the speech, Manchin would not have been mistaken for a party-line Democrat; in his hard-fought Senate campaign last year, the then-governor. (Manchin was elected in a special election to replace Sen. Robert Byrd, which is why he is up for election again next year.) His criticism will put more pressure on the White House to take a stronger hand in working out a budget deal, without which the government will shut down on March 18th.
When the Senate
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) told CBS News Senior Political Producer Jill Jackson that Manchin is incorrect in his assessment, insisting, "the president has been engaged."
"The point person is not out of the country," he said. "The point person is the President of the United States and his people are fully engaged in this effort."
Reid said Tuesday that he would force a vote on the Republican budget plan even as Senate Republicans, perhaps fearful of having to vote in favor of some of the drastic cuts in their proposal, move to keep the vote from taking place.
In addition to Manchin, at least two Democratic senators - Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, both of whom are up for re-election next year - have questioned whether the Democratic proposal goes far enough.