Gridlock May Not Be All Bad for Obama

Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:31pm

Legislatively at least, the table is set for November; little of political consequence is likely to even make it to the Senate floor for debate, and that’s not all bad for the White House as it uses Congressional Republicans as a foil.

With the economy continuing to grow slowly, the White House has alternated its message between taking credit for what job growth there is and criticizing the GOP for obstructing the bulk of the president’s agenda.

And the administration doesn’t want to get dragged into side arguments on GOP turf, such as gun control, where the words “existing law” were repeated endlessly last week.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest today called on Congressional Republicans to put something on their own “to-do list” before they leave — pointing to the pieces of president’s various jobs bills that have either been blocked by the GOP or never made it to the floor for votes.

“I’ll leave it to them to make up their own to-do list,” Earnest said of Congressional Republicans. He added, “As they consider what to put on that to-do list, I would urge them to also think about the reaction that they’re going to get from their constituents when they go home and spend the month of August in town hall meetings and traveling across their districts.”

Obama has also tweeted numerous times a link to a countdown clock on his campaign website demanding action on his stalled jobs agenda by the end of this week.

The push includes his “to-do list” and several pieces of the American Jobs Act. But hopes for passing any of it before the break have dwindled in recent weeks and now are close to zero.

His proposed small-business tax cut may have been his best chance, but it fell in the Senate to a Republican filibuster on a cloture vote. The GOP blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for blocking their amendments. Regardless, it’s not going anywhere.

Nor are the president’s calls for a new stimulus infrastructure package; aid for states to hire teachers, firefighters and police officers; a massive refinancing proposal for millions of homeowners; shifting tax breaks from outsourcing to insourcing; or renewing tax breaks for renewable energy.

Instead, the House and Senate have spent the runup to the August break passing tax cut bills that have each been declared dead on arrival in the other chamber.

Ben LaBolt, spokesman for the Obama campaign, used the inaction on Obama’s plans to go after presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“Everyday on the trail Mitt Romney calls for job creation, but he opposes the president’s plan to create jobs now and Republicans in Congress have obstructed it. … Mitt Romney has made clear that he’d be a rubber-stamp for the budget-busting tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires Congressional Republicans have perpetuated — ignoring the fact that we’ve tried them before and they didn’t unleash growth or job creation.”

The Romney campaign, however, said Obama owns the economy. “For the first two years of his term, President Obama had an entirely Democratic House and Senate in the Congress,” spokesman Ryan Williams said. “He was able to pass any piece of legislation that he wanted on the economy” but instead put his focus on liberal policies such as energy cap-and-trade and the health care law.

His latest proposals are simply recycling ideas “that failed to work in the past,” Williams said.

Republican leaders and aides have bristled at the idea that they haven’t worked with the president. They point to an assortment of items Obama has asked for and Congress has delivered, including the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, trade agreements, patent reform, a Federal Aviation Administration bill, a highway bill, student loans and a veterans jobs bill, among others.

But those still amount to fairly small potatoes relative to the hundreds of billions of dollars in spending and tax cut stimulus proposals that the GOP has blocked. (The White House Office of Management and Budget last week lowered its expectation of this year’s deficit by more than $100 billion to $1.2 trillion, citing Congress’ decision to block Obama’s initiatives.)

The GOP has also complained that Obama and Senate Democrats have ignored Republican jobs measures — many of which would roll back regulations the Obama administration has put into place — and have given up on the basics of governing, such as passing a budget or appropriations bills.

“At this point in past presidential election years, the Senate is diligently working on things like appropriations bills or the defense authorization bill,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said today. “Not this Senate. Not this year. Our Democratic colleagues refuse to do the basic work of government.” McConnell made those comments in the same speech in which he exhorted Republicans to filibuster an Oklahoma Circuit Court nominee because confirming the judge would violate a partisan rule — used by both parties — designed to block judicial appointments within six months of a presidential election.

McConnell has also repeatedly accused Obama of not working with Republicans so he has somebody to run against and blame for the economy.

“Right now, President Obama has no ‘jobs agenda’ other than a small-business tax hike that would cost 700,000 jobs,” a House GOP leadership aide said. “I’d wager a shiny nickel that even Jay Carney doesn’t remember what’s on the ‘to-do list’ at this point.”

For the White House, the inability of Congress to act to tackle fiscal issues such as taxes, the debt limit and the defecit is another example of the Congressional GOP ducking its responsibilities and playing chicken at the behest of the rich. The president would be happy to talk when the GOP is willing to raise taxes on “millionaires and billionaires,” White House aides have repeatedly suggested.

“Thus far Republicans have made protecting the tax benefits of millionaires and billionaires the top priority,” Earnest said. “That’s what’s stood in the way.”