A 14-month-long ‘holding pattern’

President Obama has a line he’s been using for the last two weeks that he’s especially fond. It’s about the “luxury” of time — something he believes the country and our economy simply do not have.

Here, for example, is some of the rhetoric from the president’s speech in Cincinnati this week, at a bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky, while promoting the American Jobs Act.

“Maybe some of the people in Congress would rather settle their differences at the ballot box than work together right now. In fact, a while back, [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell] said that his ‘top priority’ — #1 priority — was ‘to defeat the president.’ That was his top priority. Not jobs, not putting people back to work, not rebuilding America. Beating me.

“Well, I’ve got news for him and every other member of Congress who feels the same way. The next election is 14 months away, and I’ll be happy to tangle sometime down the road. But the American people right now don’t have the luxury of waiting to solve our problems for another 14 months. A lot of folks are living paycheck to paycheck. A lot of folks are just barely getting by. They need us to get to work right now. They need us to pass this bill.”

Now, no one in Congress is likely to come right out and admit they intend to just kill time until the 2012 elections, but some are willing to more or less predict that outcome. Take Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), for example.

Blunt said he has long believed that “the country is essentially in almost a holding pattern” until November 2012, when voters will have to decide what direction they want government policy to take. Until then, he said, “I’m not overwhelmingly optimistic” that Congress will be able to get much done.

In fairness to Blunt, the quote doesn’t necessarily reflect a preference. I didn’t hear the full context, but the wording makes it sound more like an observation about a perceived political reality — the senator apparently thinks a 14-month-long “holding pattern” is unavoidable.

It’s important to realize, though, just how wrong this is, or at least should be.

Indeed, note the rest of Blunt’s take: voters will have to decide the nation’s direction. I can appreciate the underlying point — voters elected mainstream Democrats to lead the White House and Senate, and then elected right-wing Republicans to lead the House — but does anyone seriously believe the electorate wants and expects 14 months of dysfunction and inaction? By Blunt’s reasoning, any time an election cycle produces power-sharing between the parties, policymakers should simply stop working and wait for voters to pick one-party rule the next time.

But that’s ridiculous. In recent generations, there have been plenty of instances in which one party controlled one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and the other party was in power at the other end. Indeed, in the modern era, this has been more common than the alternative. Somehow, policymakers were able to function, more or less, without decades of “holding patterns,” waiting for voters to break the tie.

For that matter, public opinion can often be nuanced and complicated, but it’ not that inscrutable. We actually have a pretty good sense of what the American mainstream wants policymakers to do right now — polls show strong, bipartisan support for investing in infrastructure, preventing public-sector layoffs, and tax credits for new hires.

“Voters will have to decide what direction they want government policy to take”? We already know what direction they want government policy to take. So why wait in a “holding pattern” when there’s a bipartisan plan to address the nation’s most pressing needs sitting on the table, waiting for Congress to act?

If Americans aren’t satisfied with this, they’re going to have to say so.