What ‘a great deal of work’ might include

WHAT ‘A GREAT DEAL OF WORK’ MIGHT INCLUDE…. Kevin Drum notes what the rest of the year on Capitol Hill could look like, “if Democrats had their act together a little better.”

In general, the idea here would be for Obama to submit a raft of popular, highly targeted jobs bills to Capitol Hill and insist that Congress vote on them. One by one, either Republicans would defect and Dems would get a series of wins, or else, one by one, we’d get a series of 59-41 votes that would showcase Republican intransigence on the economy.

But would it work if, instead, each bill were the source of intra-party bickering that turned off the voters, long delays that made Washington seem impotent, and votes that ended up 53-47 because a handful of centrist Democrats insisted on breaking ranks? Probably not. And unfortunately, that’s probably what we’d get.

Agreed. I love the vision — lining up a series of votes on what could be labeled the “Democratic Jobs Agenda,” launching a genuine debate over addressing the economy over the deficit, forcing Republicans to repeatedly vote against meaningful jobs measures shortly before the election, etc. — but I have no reason to hope this is realistic.

The first problem is the one Kevin mentioned — there are just too many hand-wringing conservative Dems who’ve bought into the rhetoric of those who created this mess in the first place. It starts with Ben Nelson, but it continues with a large Blue Dog caucus in the House. The party can’t seriously pursue the “Democratic Jobs Agenda” when sizable numbers in the caucuses say they want to cut spending and focus on deficit reduction because some poll said it was a good idea.

But I think there’s another problem, and it was evident in President Obama’s remarks this morning responding to the jobs report. The president, not surprisingly, emphasized the positives and assured the country that we’re “headed in the right direction.” This rhetoric is to be expected — Obama wants not only to try to bolster public confidence, but also to position his administration to receive credit for having rescued the economy from a catastrophic collapse.

And while the evidence clearly points to Obama deserving that credit, the rhetorical problem is probably obvious — the White House can’t tout the stimulus successes and generate a sense of urgency for additional stimulus at the same time. Or put another way, it’s tough to say “we solved the problem” and “the problem is getting worse” simultaneously.

But the result is discouraging, to put it mildly. As the economy slows, and the risk of a downturn becomes more acute, it’s incumbent on the president to call on Congress to act — lawmakers sure as hell won’t do this on their own — and to sell the public on an ambitious response.

It’s rhetorically challenging, but almost certainly necessary. My recommended pitch: Republican started this devastating fire, and the Democrats’ Recovery Act put it out. The next step is rebuilding on the ashes, not waiting for simmering embers to start burning again.

Or maybe: Republicans drove our car into a ditch, and the Dems’ Recovery Act pulled it out. It’s time to get the car moving again, not let it slide backwards.

The president said this morning, “[W]e still have a great deal of work to do to repair the economy and get the American people back to work.” I couldn’t agree more. But what might that “great deal of work” include?