President Obama sat down with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos a few weeks ago, and acknowledged “the relations between myself and the Republican Congress have not been good over the last several months, but it’s not for lack of effort.” The problem, Obama added, is that “they’ve made a decision to follow what is a pretty extreme approach to governance.”

The reference to “the Republican Congress” didn’t make waves at the time, but the president’s phrase was technically wrong — there’s a Republican House, but Congress is divided thanks to a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate.

But the dubious phrase is probably worth keeping an eye on.

President Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill are increasingly referring to the Congress as “Republican” even though their party controls one-half of the unpopular institution.

Obama and his allies have started to deploy the phrase “Republican Congress” in what some experts see as a clear attempt to gain a political advantage. […]

“I’m sure the president would like it to be creating jobs more quickly. And if the members of the do-nothing Republican Congress would actually put a couple of oars in the water and help us, [we could] do these things like [Mississippi] Gov. [Haley] Barbour mentioned that make so much sense,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” earlier this month.

I have no idea if this is part of a deliberate strategy, but if it is, it’s a pretty smart one.

Public revulsion towards Congress has reached levels unseen since the dawn of modern polling. Of course the parties are going to want voters to think the other side is in charge. It’s exactly why Republican John Boehner has said — several thousand times (literally) — that Democrats “run Washington,” even though he’s the Speaker of the House.

But in the case of the “Republican Congress,” Dems have at least have a plausible case to make. There’s obviously a large GOP majority in the House, and thanks to Republican obstructionism and abuses, the Senate has effectively become a 60-vote chamber — and the Democratic caucus has 53 members.

Dems are in the majority only to the extent that they have the luxury of picking which bills Republicans will kill and which nominees Republicans will block.

It’s why Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) had no qualms the other day saying about Congress, “Democrats aren’t in charge.”

The message to voters isn’t subtle: if you’re not happy with Capitol Hill, vote Democratic because it’s a Republican Congress. In fact, I’d expect to hear this quite a bit.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.