By hammering on jobs bill, can Obama rekindle hearts of US teachers?
Obama has some bridge-building to do with teachers, many of whom haven't much liked his education policies. That may be one reason he keeps touting his jobs bill, even though House leaders say it won't fly.
Given the Republican majority leader's harsh assessment of the measure's prospects, Obama can't really expect that his jobs bill has much of a future in Congress. And Republicans have nothing to gain by backtracking from the stand they've taken. So why the president's persistent focus now, hammering particularly hard on the number of teaching jobs the bill would save?
Enter the political season.
In terms of campaigning, many aspects of the jobs bill have broad popular support – and one of the biggest hurdles Obama faces in his reelection bid is the electorate's deep unhappiness with the lackluster economy and the high unemployment rate. The more he can convince voters that Republicans are the ones blocking action to fix the economy, the better for Obama.
More specifically, Obama has some bridge-building to do with America's teachers.
In 2008, teachers were a huge part of his base, and the two major teachers' unions have been major contributors to Obama, as well as other Democratic politicians and causes. But his education agenda – with its emphasis on increased teacher accountability – has alienated many teachers.
While it's unlikely that the unions would endorse someone else, or that many teachers would switch party allegiance, there has been talk among some educators of delaying an endorsement, or at least not campaigning as actively.
That would hurt. On Tuesday, the White House released a report saying the bill could support 400,000 teaching jobs next year, preventing the layoffs of 280,000 teachers whose jobs are at risk and allowing the hiring or rehiring of thousands more. (Given that the bill would pay for those jobs for only one year, that's a somewhat misleading number.)
And the president himself, in his speech in Texas Tuesday, cited a laid-off single mother who wants to return to teaching as one example of who his bill would help. And he took on Congressman Cantor mano a mano.
"Yesterday, the Republican majority leader in Congress, Eric Cantor, said that right now, he won’t even let the jobs bill have a vote in the House of Representatives," Obama said in his prepared remarks. "Well, I’d like Mr. Cantor to come down here to Dallas and explain what in this jobs bill he doesn’t believe in. 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 veterans? Mr. Cantor should come down to Dallas, look Kim Russell in the eye, and tell her why she doesn’t deserve to get a paycheck again. Come tell her students why they don’t deserve to have their teacher back."
It doesn't matter that Cantor has said the jobs bill will never be brought to a vote, or that Obama's "all-or-nothing approach is unreasonable." The jobs bill helps Obama signal to teachers that he's on their side – and on the side of parents concerned about overcrowded classrooms and Americans concerned about unemployment.
The jobs bill may not have any future, but don't expect Obama to stop talking about it anytime soon.