So much for graciousness

President Obama, in an attempt at graciousness, called House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) yesterday, congratulating him on the successful passage of trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. It was the first time the two leaders had connected in three weeks, and it appeared to be sincere, good-will outreach from the president.

In a sign of the times, even a congratulatory phone call generated an argument.

The problem, at least from the Speaker’s perspective, was something Obama said earlier during a press event with South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. A reporter asked the U.S. president why he doesn’t “sit down with members of Congress to see if you can’t reach compromise” on a jobs bill. (That so many reporters seem so confused about this is disconcerting.)

“Frankly, we have not seen a lot of ideas coming forward from Republicans that would indicate that same kind of commitment to job creation,” Obama responded. “If Senator McConnell or Speaker Boehner say to me, ‘You know what, we want to get some infrastructure built in this country, we think that putting construction workers back to work is important,’ I’ll be right there. We’ll be ready to go. If they are willing to renew the payroll tax as we worked on together in December, I’ll be ready to go.”

This, apparently, offended Boehner to such an extent that he turned a congratulatory call with the president into another fight — and then took the unusual step of giving the press a readout of the conversation.

According to an unusually detailed account released by the speaker’s office, Boehner “respectfully challenged” the president for saying Thursday that he has not yet seen a jobs plan from Republicans. […]

“The speaker told the president that when he sent his jobs plan to the Hill, Republicans pledged to give it consideration, and have done so,” the release stated. “The president was reminded of a memo written by GOP leaders outlining the specific areas where they believe common ground can be found.”

“I want to make sure you have all the facts,” Boehner said he told the president.

And I, too, want to make sure the Speaker has all the facts.

The memo GOP leaders put together several months ago wasn’t a jobs plan; it was an offer to the White House to have the president agree with long-standing Republican ideas. The number of actual jobs bills passed by the U.S. House this year? Zero.

The American Jobs Act, love it or hate it, is a real piece of legislation. It’s been scored by the CBO; it’s been studied by economists; it’s been subjected to scrutiny. Experts have been able to make projections about its possible impact, and some have found it would create as many as 1.9 millions. Boehner, meanwhile, posted some vague platitudes on a website. When independent economists took a look — a detailed analysis was difficult since the GOP offered so few specifics — they found the Republican ideas wouldn’t “mean much for the economy and job market in the next year.”

When the Speaker wants to take this issue seriously, I’m sure everyone — voters, reporters, the White House, congressional Dems — will be ready to engage in a credible discussion.

Just as an aside, I’d also note yesterday’s tiff tells us something important about the Speaker’s perspective. At a certain level, one likes to think — or at least, hope — that Boehner is intelligent enough to know not to believe his own talking points. The Speaker may have to say things in interviews for the sake of a larger, partisan agenda, but beneath the veneer, he must know the truth.

Except, Boehner apparently doesn’t know anything of the kind. In a private conversation with the president, the Speaker seemed to genuinely believe his own nonsense.