Can Obama turn it around?
A feistier President Obama has emerged as he makes the case for his jobs bill. But will campaigning for a plan that faces dim prospects with Republicans be enough to save his presidency?
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“I firmly believe that Republicans in Congress, driven by a concerted group, have decided that it is not in their party’s political interest to have the president succeed at creating any jobs,” says Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Governors’ Association, speaking at a Monitor breakfast Sept. 15. “And I believe therefore they will do their very best to deny him any victories that could lead to job creation or a speedier recovery.”Skip to next paragraph
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Truman's 'do-nothing Congress'
An aggressive push for his jobs package could be a win-win for Obama. If he is able to pass at least part, he demonstrates effectiveness. If nothing passes, and the economy continues to struggle, then he can bash a “do-nothing Congress,” à la President Truman in 1948.
But the White House is hoping that Speaker Boehner will see benefit to himself and congressional Republicans in passing at least part of the bill, at a time when congressional job approval ratings are at record lows, currently in the mid-teens. The proposed extension of the payroll tax cut, costing $240 billion, may have the best shot at passage. If the current reduction is allowed to expire, that would mean an effective tax increase next year, which would be particularly awkward for anti-tax Republicans.
Another minefield awaiting Obama and the Republicans is deficit reduction.
If the efforts of Congress’s bipartisan “super committee” devolve into a rancorous deadlock, as with the debt ceiling standoff, all concerned – including Obama – could suffer additional political damage. But in the end, gridlock hurts the president more than Congress. No matter how unpopular Congress gets, as an institution, voters still tend to send their individual member back to Washington. Not so with the president.
New York House race a wakeup call?
The upset victory by the Republican in the Sept. 13 special congressional election to fill the seat of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York may be a canary in a coal mine. Many Democrats see that loss as a direct rebuke of Obama, and hope the president will see it as a wakeup call to play hardball with the GOP.
In the end, no amount of political machinations are likely to save Obama if the economy is showing no serious glimmers of improvement by at least June of next year and the Republicans nominate a candidate whom general election voters believe is a reasonable alternative.
“Obama is looking very vulnerable at this point, as many presidents who lose momentum do a year or more before the election,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. But once the Republicans choose their nominee, he adds, “I think Democrats come home and Obama buoys up a little bit.”
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