Republicans and Democrats have grown anxious over the budget stalemate. With the federal government set to run out of money on March 18, congressional leaders of both parties are calling on Obama to get more involved, warning that a government shutdown is imminent. Obama portrays himself as engaged behind the scenes -- talking to congressional leaders, issuing daily marching orders to staff -- but at the same time calmly suggested that Congress pass another temporary funding measure until a final compromise on the 2011 budget could be struck. He gave no indication that he felt the need to do more.
"It shouldn't be that complicated," Obama said. "Our expectation is that we should be able to get this completed."
Senior administration officials say the president's policies on the budget, the Middle East and rising oil prices reflect his preference for setting a goal but letting others work out the details. It helped him strike a tax deal with Republicans and to repeal a ban on gays in the military. But it also has led to charges that the president isn't providing necessary leadership.
"Obama's more natural position is not to draw lines in the sand, but negotiate," said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University politics professor. "Sometimes it's better to let things generate from Congress, then step forward and guide them."
Unable to spur the president into action on the budget, Republicans changed course and began pressuring Obama to clamp down on soaring oil prices, which driven the price of gas to nearly $4 a gallon.
Obama responded by holding a press conference to talk about gas prices Friday, but he didn't announce any new plans or initiatives. Instead, he assured the public that he is monitoring the markets and willing to tap the U.S. petroleum reserves "should the situation demand it."
"The president has proven to be a very weak leader on foreign policy, on domestic oil production and on helping to keep the government funded through the remainder of the year," Brian Darling of the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation. "The White House seems like they are all over the place - like they have no consistent policy on anything."
But it's also possible that Obama's critics are asking too much of the president, particularly on issues like the price of foreign oil, political analysts said.
"He could talk about the price of oil as much as he wants, but no one can control the markets," Catholic University politics professor Wallace Thies said. "You don't want to talk too much and then not be able to deliver."
Obama, Thies said, is focused on stabilizing the economy - creating jobs and lowering unemployment rates - as he readies for the 2012 election, even if that's costing him immediate political support.
"I think the president has his eye on a bigger picture," he said.