Last week Obama got Congress to give up the F-22 by threatening to veto the defense budget bill. This week, he's pushing for even more cuts. He's threatened to nix the bill if it contains money for the presidential helicopter—a program Gates tried to cancel but which the House revived—or a second engine for the F-35 fighter jet.
This is an encouraging but puzzling move. In dealing with Congress, Obama has employed a distinctive strategy, especially as witnessed in the cap and trade and health care debates. In both cases, Obama has been prepared to keep all options on the table and let Congress take the lead in writing legislation. Predictably, this has resulted in some very disappointing bills. So what's the difference here? If he can play hardball with John Murtha, why not with Max Baucus?