We Asked for a Fight and the President is Actually Giving Us One: Let's Not Lose Sight of the Jobs Bill
It's not any secret that progressive Democrats have been some of the harshest critics of the president. For the last two years, this blog has been engaged in a non-stop conversation/debate about the performance of the president, with me generally taking the side that tries to explain the limitations imposed on any president by the structure of Congress, the rules of the Senate, and the lack of party unity. Right now, we are seeing a demonstration of what I have been trying to explain. Many people have argued, repeatedly and vociferously, that the president could attain better outcomes by demonstrating more leadership, by asking for a whole lot more than he could realistically get, and by taking his case to the American people. If he would stop trying to get along with Republicans and, instead, take them on with hot rhetoric, he would get more done and be seen more favorably by the public.
After the debt ceiling fiasco, the White House decided they have nothing left to lose and went ahead and took that advice. They called for a Joint Session of Congress and called for a Jobs Bill that is a lot more comprehensive than anything that is actually likely to pass. The president went on the road (he's on the road today), and did his best to sell his bill. He ramped up his rhetoric and directly blamed the Republicans for their obstruction. He didn't preemptively offer to water down his bill, but repeatedly called for the whole bill to be passed, and passed quickly.
So, here's the test. Everyone who has been arguing that this is the way to go should be standing and applauding. They should be eager to help out and prove their theory correct. If the president had done this in early 2009, he would have gotten a much bigger stimulus. If he'd done this throughout 2009, he would have gotten a public option in the health care reform bill. If he'd done this on the financial reforms, he would have gotten a stronger, more worthy bill. If he'd done on the debt ceiling debate, he'd have won some more tax revenue. That's the theory so many have been operating on as they critique this presidency.
Now, I am fervently hoping to be proven wrong. I am hoping that the president's new aggressiveness will result the passage of a Jobs Bill that puts 2 million people to work largely by taxing Wall Street. But I want to note how easy it is to simply ignore the president and hand him a massive defeat.
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said definitively Monday that President Obama's $447 billion jobs bill is dead on arrival in his chamber.
To hear Obama tell it, that's just about par for the course. "I have done everything I can to try to get the Republican Party to work with me to deal with what is the biggest crisis of our lifetimes," Obama said in an interview with ABC News. "And each time, all we've gotten from them is, 'No.'"
When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the bill is dead on arrival, he means that he won't even bring it up for a vote. The answer is simply 'no.' It's not even that they're going to defeat the bill. They won't vote on it. They won't even debate it. And it's easy for them to do because of the lack of party unity on the Democratic side.
Cantor said the prospect of passing the bill in its entirety, though, is just not feasible, in part because of the problems in the president's own party.
"I think from a purely practical standpoint, the president's got some whipping to do on his own side of the aisle. Clearly, I think comments made by Democrats on both the House and Senate side indicated they have problems with the president's bill," Cantor said.
The president responded to this today down in Texas (no link):
"Dallas, that starts now. That starts with your help. Yesterday, the Republican Majority Leader in Congress, Eric Cantor, said that right now, he won’t even let the jobs bill have a vote in the House of Representatives. He won’t even give it a vote.
"Well I’d like Mr. Cantor to come down here to Dallas and explain what in this jobs bill he doesn’t believe in. Does he not believe in rebuilding America’s roads and bridges? Does he not believe in tax breaks for small businesses, or efforts to help veterans?
"Mr. Cantor should come down to Dallas, look Kim Russell in the eye, and tell her why she doesn’t deserve to get a paycheck again. Come tell her students why they don’t deserve to have their teacher back.
"Come tell Dallas construction workers why they should be sitting home instead of fixing our bridges and our schools.
"Come tell the small business owners and workers in this community why you’d rather defend tax breaks for millionaires than tax cuts for the middle-class.
"And if you won’t do that, at least put this jobs bill up for a vote so that the entire country knows exactly where every Member of Congress stands.
So, that's where the fight stands. The president is testing out the theory that he can get more done by demanding the Republicans back down and stop their intransigence. He's seeing if he can rally the people and put enough pressure on the Republicans to force some action on jobs.
What's amazing and depressing is that the same people who have been asking him to do this on every issue under the Sun over the past two years are responding with a collective yawn.
I know, people will make excuses. The bill isn't all that great anyway. It's too late. The whole system is rotten, so what's the point? The one thing you can't do is say that the bill has no chance so why get involved. You've premised your entire critique of the president on the fact that what he's doing now can work and could have worked in the past. So, how do you stand on the sidelines now?
I know that the protests on Wall Street are exciting and exhilarating and provide a visceral feeling of satisfaction. But they are coming at an inopportune time. The Republicans need to feel the full power of the left on this Jobs Bill. The presidency is probably riding on the outcome. If you ask for a fight and then leave the scene the moment the fight starts, what does that make you?