It’s pretty easy to game out what happens next when it comes to Washington and the economy. President Obama has presented the American Jobs Act and urged Congress to pass it. Republicans will say, “No.” The economy will struggle; the White House will accurately blame the GOP; Republicans will falsely blame Dems; and the media will foolishly blame everyone.
We can talk about the merits of the American Jobs Act, what it would do for the economy, and why the public likes it, but so long as (a) Republicans don’t want to act; and (b) Republicans really don’t want to hand Obama a victory, the political process is likely to spin its wheels.
In theory, if American politics still operated by traditional rules, the White House would try to overcome these hurdles by presenting a bipartisan plan, filled with ideas from both parties, to help expand the base of support. This no longer works — Republicans no longer support their own policies, at least not the ones Obama is inclined to go along with.
So, what’s the plan? The White House strategy appears to have two parts: persuasion and blame.
On the first, the president vowed last night to take his message “to every corner of this country,” and urged the public to contact lawmakers in support of the American Jobs Act. Obama made a similar pitch in Richmond this morning, staying very much on the offensive. The point is to try to move public opinion and change the political landscape.
Republicans don’t want to lift a finger to boost the economy? The White House hopes to create the conditions that won’t give the GOP much of a choice — the public demand would be so intense, inaction wouldn’t be a viable option. Republicans aren’t just opponents of the White House, the argument will go, they’re also opponents of an economic recovery.
On the second, the president has positioned himself as the one in Washington fighting for jobs. Republicans, according to the pitch, can either get on board or face the blame. As Jonathan Cohn noted this morning:
Then Obama has at least given the public a clear sense of who stands for what. And make no mistake: That’s a worthwhile endeavor. The approaching presidential election will offer voters stark choices about the country’s future. The best thing Obama can do — not only for the sake of his own candidacy but for the sake of the public discourse — is to make sure the voters understand those choices.
It’s probably worth noting that the GOP response was quite muted last night. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was cautious in his critique, saying the ideas presented by the president “merit consideration.” Similarly, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) added there are “things in the package that we both can agree on.” It’s extremely unlikely GOP leaders are sincere about any of this, but Republicans at least know not to help make Obama’s point for him — last night probably wasn’t the time for GOP officials to immediately refuse to even consider helping the economy.
But in the coming weeks, any semblance of success is still a long shot. I can imagine House Republicans approving some smaller, uncontroversial provisions and saying, “See? Look how responsible we are!” before balking at the most important measures. I can also imagine the House GOP passing a right-wing version of a jobs bill and then pretending to be outraged when the Senate and White House disapprove (see “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act”).
Can I imagine Boehner, Cantor, and Mitch McConnell actually working in good faith to approve an ambitious jobs bill, concluding that it would improve their own standing and make the wildly unpopular Republican Party look better and more mature? No, I really can’t — so long as these guys have a to-do list that ranks destroying the president and undermining faith in public institutions near the top, serious policymaking is probably impossible.
To my mind, it would take a dramatic shift in the polls, accompanied by a major public outcry, and the widespread perception that Republicans are now the Party of the Status Quo to change the equation. That means the White House and progressives in general have an enormous lift ahead of them.