Not taking ‘dead’ for an answer

On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the American Jobs Act is “dead.” Congressional Republicans, he said, might be willing to consider some small measures that won’t make much of a difference, but meaningful efforts are off the table.

On Tuesday, President Obama traveled to Dallas, Texas, where he responded to the oft-confused Majority Leader directly.

“Yesterday, the Republican Majority Leader in Congress, Eric Cantor, said that right now he won’t even let this jobs bill have a vote in the House of Representatives. This is what he said. Won’t even let it be debated. Won’t even give it a chance to be debated on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“Think about that. I mean, what’s the problem? Do they not have the time? They just had a week off. Is it inconvenient?

“Look, I’d like Mr. Cantor to come down here to Dallas and explain what exactly in this jobs bill does he not believe in. What exactly is he opposed to? 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 our veterans?

“Mr. Cantor should come down to Dallas and look Kim Russell in the eye and tell her why she doesn’t deserve to be back in the classroom doing what she loves, helping our kids. Come tell her students why they don’t deserve to have their teacher back. Come tell Dallas construction workers why they should be sitting idle instead of out there on the job. Tell small business owners and workers in this community why you’d rather defend tax breaks for folks who don’t need them — for millionaires — rather than tax cuts for middle-class families.

“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 members of Congress stand. Put your cards on the table.”

If there were any doubts about whether the president is fully invested in his more confrontational posture, I think calling out Cantor like this, by name, should make Obama’s intentions fairly clear.

It also suggests the White House isn’t folding on the jobs bill. Cantor’s DOA declaration on Monday didn’t exactly send Obama back to the drawing board with his tail between his legs. The president appears eager to keep fighting.

What’s the end game? I would imagine the president and his team realize that radicalized House Republicans aren’t going to suddenly become responsible. It’d be nice, and public pressure might sway a few votes, but it’s just not realistic.

But that’s one of the things that made Obama’s message yesterday interesting: he just wants a vote on his popular and effective jobs plan. The moment congressional Republicans kill it, the president will very likely use their intransigence as the 2012 pitch: “I presented a bipartisan plan to boost the economy that the American people liked, but Republicans refused. If you’re unhappy with the state of the economy, blame them.”

I don’t know if that’ll work, but it’s a compelling message that happens to be accurate. And frankly, I’m not sure if Obama really has any other options.

Postscript: Incidentally, the president also had a little fun with a quote ThinkProgress flagged the other day.

“[T]he tax code, the way it’s structured, is not fair. And so what we’ve said is, let’s reform our tax code based on a very simple principle, and it will raise more money without hurting working families. Here’s the principle: Middle-class families, working families, should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires or billionaires. I don’t know how you argue against that; seems pretty straightforward to me. Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett.

“Now, when I point this out — it seems very logical to me, but when I point this out, some of the Republicans in Congress, they say, ‘Oh, you’re engaging in class warfare.’ Class warfare? Let me tell you something. Years ago, a great American had a different view. All right? I’m going to get the quote just so you know I’m not making this up. The Great American said that he thought it was ‘crazy’ that certain tax loopholes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary. All right?

“You know who this guy was? Wasn’t a Democrat. Wasn’t some crazy socialist. It was Ronald Reagan. It was Ronald Reagan. Last time I checked, Republicans all thought Reagan made some sense. So the next time you hear one of those Republicans in Congress accusing you of class warfare, you just tell them, I’m with Ronald Reagan.”

If Republicans in Congress — or on the presidential campaign trail — could be asked whether they agree with Reagan or not, I’d sure love to hear the answers.