Jobs bill shows why Obama needs friends in Congress

Obama on Thursday exhorted Congress, again, to pass his jobs bill. From start to finish, the president depends on friends in Congress even to introduce legislation, let alone pass it.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Obama gestures during his news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday.

President Obama at his press conference Thursday once again pushed Congress to pass his jobs bill. That sort of exhortation is a normal part of the political process in a democracy. Mr. Obama can't enact the legislation all by himself, after all.

You knew that, of course. But here's something maybe you didn't know: He can't even introduce it by his lonesome.

It's true. Presidents have many powers. They can rally the nation, fire cabinet secretaries, and move US forces around the world. But they can't send the clerk of the House draft legislation and tell him or her to add it to the congressional agenda. Only elected lawmakers, duly sworn in, can do that.

So when a president has something he wants considered, such as Obama's American Jobs Act, he has to recruit a friend or ally on Capitol Hill to help out.

That’s usually not too hard, of course. There’s almost always a willing member of the president’s party who comes to hand. Some important bills, such as the annual budget, get introduced by congressional leaders as a matter of course at the president’s request.

Mr. Obama’s American Jobs Act of 2011, otherwise known as S 1549, received this treatment. The Library of Congress lists it as having been introduced on Sept. 13 in the Senate by majority leader Harry Reid “by request,” meaning Obama called him up and asked him to do it. (Senator Reid’s probably for this bill. But we’ll note for the record that lawmakers can vote against legislation they’ve introduced, if they feel like it.)

Senate rules require bills to be introduced from the floor during “morning business,” which, in typical straightforward Washington fashion, can occur at any time of day. The House is a little more informal: There’s a hopper on the clerk’s desk where members can deposit bills for introduction when the chamber is in session.

Maybe that relative ease of operation explains why in the House, the title “American Jobs Act of 2011” is attached to a completely different bill. Listed as HR 2911, it was introduced by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas on Sept.14, according to the Library of Congress. Its main thrust would be to abolish the corporate income tax.

Its main political thrust, of course, is to throw a jab Obama’s way.

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