Harry Reid’s claim that the GOP won’t ‘do anything that’s constructive’

at 06:00 AM ET, 10/18/2011


(Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
“These programs have worked in the past. Republicans know they've worked in the past. But when you have a goal, your only goal is to follow your leader. And that leader, my friend Mitch McConnell, his goal is to defeat Obama. Of course they don't want to do anything that's constructive.”

--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Oct. 17, 2011

Senate Democrats this week plan to bring pieces of President Obama’s jobs bill to the floor of the Senate, in the wake of the full bill’s failure to advance to a vote. As evidence of Republican intransigence, Democrats appear determined to evoke repeatedly the noteworthy comment in 2010 by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

 But we were struck by Reid’s assertion that Republicans in the Senate “don’t want to do anything that’s constructive.” How accurate is that?

 

The Facts

During the president’s bus tour last summer, he called on Congress to take a number of important steps: pass trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia; pass trade adjustment assistance; pass patent reform; pass Federal Aviation Administration authorization; and pass an extension of the highway transportation bill.

Perhaps it has been lost in all of the back-and-forth over the jobs bill, but all of these things actually have been accomplished in recent weeks.

Indeed, during the summer months, the president frequently accused members of Congress of playing politics on these issues.

On Aug. 15, Obama said:  “You know, trade deals haven’t always been good for America.  There have been times where we haven’t gotten a fair deal out of our trade deals.  But we’ve put together a package that is going to allow us to start selling some Chevys and some Fords to Korea so that — we don’t mind having Hyundais and Kias here, but we want some ‘Made in America’ stuff in other countries.  That’s something that Congress could do right now.

 The trade bills — the most important in two decades — were approved by Congress last week. In fact, Obama hosted the president of South Korea and traveled with him to Michigan, making the case that this bill will mean more American jobs.

On Aug. 20, Obama pushed for trade adjustment assistance for workers who lost their jobs to free trade: “Let’s pass trade deals to level the playing field for our businesses. . . .These are common-sense ideas – ideas that have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans. The only thing holding them back is politics. The only thing preventing us from passing these bills is the refusal by some in Congress to put country ahead of party. That’s the problem right now. That’s what’s holding this country back. That’s what we have to change.”

 That bill passed in September, paving the way for the trade deals.

On Aug. 15, Obama demanded action on patent reform:  “Patent reform is something that a lot of folks don’t talk about, but our entrepreneurs, when they come up with a good idea, if we could reform how that system works and cut some of the red tape, we could have entrepreneurs creating businesses like Google and Microsoft right now, all across the country.  But we’ve got to make this investment, and Congress could make that decision to make it happen.”

 The patent bill also passed in September.

 On Aug. 31, Obama called for a deal to avert another FAA shutdown:  “So I’m calling on Congress, as soon as they come back, to pass a clean extension of the surface transportation bill, along with a clean extension of the FAA bill, to give workers and communities across America the confidence that vital construction projects won’t come to a halt.”

An extension of FAA funding through January was passed in September.

Finally, also on Aug. 31, Obama called for a renewal of the transportation bill: “This transportation bill has been renewed seven times in the last two years alone. That’s why my Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood — a Republican — is with me today, along with David Chavern from the Chamber of Commerce, and Rich Trumka of the AFL-CIO — two organizations who don’t always see eye-to-eye on things — because they agree on how important it is for our economy that Congress act now.”

A bill providing for highway funding through March passed in September too.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said it was a “false premise” that any of these achievements negated Reid’s claim that Republicans will not do anything constructive to help the economy.

“You have to be accurate about degree and scale here,” Jentleson said. “The false premise is the idea that the things McConnell has let through are of a degree and scale that could actually jumpstart the economy. That is false. So Reid’s statement that Republicans are not working constructively on anything that is big enough to actually jumpstart the economy is true.”

(It should be noted that Reid opposed the trade deals, believing them to be job-killers.)

We have previously looked at the claim that the items in the jobs bill are things supported by Republicans in the past and found it wanting. The Senate Democrats have produced a list of votes that they claim show that Republicans have voted for such items in the past.

We won’t go through the whole list, but it’s pretty thin gruel. For instance (since we are talking about McConnell here), the list includes a vote to fully fund the COPS program that provides grants to communities to hire police officers. Sixteen Republicans, including McConnell, voted for an amendment as part of an annual budget blueprint, but the text of the amendment shows that the funding was achieved with a cut in other spending. (The proposed increase for COPS does not appear to have actually made it in a real spending bill.)

By contrast, the Senate Democrat bill is funded with a tax increase on millionaires, which Republicans philosophically oppose.

We take no position on whether such a tax increase is good or bad for the economy, but it is a core philosophical issue for Republicans — not a political one.

 Jentleson acknowledged that “our bill is paid for by a tax,” and that Republicans “will point to that as a substantive policy objection.” But he protested that we are missing the forest for the trees.

“Any reasonable person will hear Senator Reid’s remarks, along with the facts I outlined above, and come away thinking exactly what Senator Reid means: Republicans are blocking bipartisan, common-sense bills that could jumpstart our economy because their leader has announced to the world that defeating Obama is more important to him than ‘doing anything constructive’ for our economy — or anything else for that matter,” Jentleson said.

(Note: We are not picking on Democrats. Both sides play this game of spin. We are still digging into the claimed job-creation numbers offered by Republicans when they introduced last week a mish-mash of previously offered bills as their “jobs plan.” We plan to have an analysis of those figures later this week.)

The Pinocchio Test

 Reid is being uncharitable when he accuses the Republicans of not wanting “to do anything that's constructive.”

While one might argue that the bills that have passed in recent weeks do not add up to the potential impact of the jobs bill, the fact is that a number of major bills demanded by the president have passed with bipartisan support. The individual elements of Obama’s jobs bill have, at best, won a modicum of Republican support in the past but Republican opposition to this bill is rooted in a key philosophical difference — how it would be paid for.

Reid may disagree with the GOP stance on tax increases, but it is misleading to suggest that Republicans have willy-nilly blocked legislation of importance to the president.

 

Three Pinocchios

 

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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