Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Jobs Bill Strategy

Want to know the tip-off that Barack Obama thinks of his jobs bill as a campaign strategy rather than a legislative vehicle? He hasn’t tried to gain any leverage over Republicans in Congress – in particular, he has not insisted on tying it to the upcoming full year government spending bills that Congress is scheduled to pass in mid-November.

Obama just gave a press conference, in which he argued again for the jobs bill. And it’s a good argument – and as Greg Sargent has noted, it seems to be one that to a large extent resonates with voters. But Obama knows, and everyone else knows, that Republicans are not going to be persuaded – either by his own speechifying, or by the polls. What might persuade them, however, is a more serious threat: if Obama threatened to veto the continuing resolution in November unless it included his jobs ideas. It would be an incredibly risky move. After all, there’s a good chance we’re going to get a shutdown anyway and adding anything else to the challenge of getting appropriations passed would make that more likely, and it would also shift the blame for a shutdown from Congress to the White House. And if Obama isn’t willing to go through with it (and the economic hit it would cause), then he shouldn’t threaten it. Remember: there are a few dozen conservatives in the House who would love to have an excuse to shut down the government for a while, and if they can easily blame it on Obama they certainly will.

So Obama is making the safe choice, and probably the best choice, in accepting that the jobs bill won’t pass, and instead taking it to the voters. Perhaps he can even wind up getting a few provisions through the House after all. But what you’re seeing isn’t a legislative strategy to try to pass the bill; it’s an election strategy intended to give Obama the rhetoric to blame Congressional Republican obstruction for the state of the economy.


  1. JB, you're finally waking up.

    Everything about this year has been about an election strategy. In fact, everything about the midterms has been about blame shifting.

    It is a bizzare strategy designed to get independent voters. It pisses off his base, and makes him look weak. Why does that matter? It is going to keep democrats at home.

    I'd love to see Cain nominated. There is a strong black man. Obama ain't. Apparently Kenyan socialists believe in very weak tea...

    The Adminstration really believe the spin that if you're a college educated person, you are doing ok. A lot of people in that category aren't, and they are getting pissed off.

  2. It says a lot about the state of our institutions that the way to signal you intend to get something done is to threaten to shut down the whole enterprise.

  3. "After all, there’s a good chance we’re going to get a shutdown anyway and adding anything else to the challenge of getting appropriations passed would make that more likely, and it would also shift the blame for a shutdown from Congress to the White House."

    Exactly. This way Obama gets a "two-fer": 1) Keep pushing the AJA and resubmitting parts of it to keep raising the political price Republicans pay for nihilistic obstructionism, and 2) if there's a shutdown, Republicans get blamed for that too.

  4. I still don't get why there need be a distinction between policy ("legislative vehicle") and politics ("campaign strategy") in this case.

    Tying a version of the jobs bill would superficially gain a sort of leverage over the GOP, but you yourself pretty quickly show why that "leverage" wouldn't in fact qualify as leverage and wouldn't be effective -- in fact it would help the leadership of the House find blame-shifting reasons to do something they already see as hard to avoid. Obama right now is following an electorally beneficial strategy, yes. But it also objectively does seem like the only way he could also carry out something that would be effective in policy/legislative-vehicle terms.

    The only chance of the jobs bill passing is for it to generate enough pressure, through the court of public opinion, on centrist Democrats and relatively moderate Republicans that House leadership would acquiesce to holding a vote on it as it is, or in a compromised version based off of Obama not pre-compromising. Now that seems very very unlikely, but why does this strategy show up Obama's approach as more focused on campaigning than on generating legislation, or serve as evidence that such a distinction makes sense?

  5. So who is to blame??? Obama for coming up with a jobs bill that the republicans won't pass because they don't want to give him anything that might actually work in an election year ( and the country pays the price going further down the toilet), or the republicans for sitting on there hands and hoping the public blames Obama?????
    Both sides seem to have forgotten why they are there, for us. Way to much politics getting in the way, and we pay the price......

  6. PF,

    The problem is that the strategy of getting public opinion to get Members of Congress to do something basically doesn't work, or at least has very rarely worked. I'll admit, however, that it's possible that Obama's team thinks it works and is sincerely trying it, even though the record is in fact fairly clear about it.

  7. So you're saying that, so far from being outside all decent political norms, hostage-taking is now necessary to prove seriousness of purpose? That the President should threaten to shut down the government if he doesn't get his way, just as Boehner and Cantor did over the debt ceiling? Sounds like you're actually trying to legitimize the Republicans' strategy of government by temper tantrum, and of putting loyalty to party and power over loyalty to one's country. Sad.

  8. @Anon 2:22 I think it's a distortion to interpret JB as "trying to legitimize the Republicans' strategy of government by temper tantrum." I definitely didn't infer that.

    Here's how I interpreted it: If Obama actually wants Congress to pass the jobs bill, he needs some pretty big leverage. He doesn't have that kind of leverage [since the Bush tax cuts have already been renewed]. The only thing close is threatening to shut down the government, but he then risks taking the blame, so it isn't a good plan.

    Obama's in a bad position, no doubt of that. It's too late for bold ideas, but he doesn't want to be seen doing nothing. Maybe the super committee will save him by giving him the second chance to accept a reasonable deficit reduction plan. I hope we're all that lucky.


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