Will Obama’s victory on the payroll tax cut — combined with rising approval ratings and signs of an accelerating recovery — give him more leverage to prevail upon Congress to pass other items on his jobs-creation agenda?
In a speech just now, Obama called on Congress not to get complacent about the recovery, and to pass his plan to help underwater homeowners and to pass a form of the Buffett Rule, for the good of the economy:
My message to Congress is: Don’t stop here. Keep going. Keep taking the action that people are calling for to keep this economy growing...There’s a lot more that we can do — and there’s plenty of time to do it — if we want to build an economy where every American has the chance to find a job that pays well and supports a family.
For example: Congress needs to pass my plan to help responsible homeowners save about $3,000 a year by refinancing their homes, their mortgages, at historically low rates...Congress needs to step up support for America’s small businesses and especially companies that want to export. It’s time we stop rewarding businesses that send jobs overseas and start rewarding companies right here, that want to create jobs in the United States and sell to other countries, as opposed to exporting jobs to other countries.
Congress needs to make the Buffet rule a reality. This is common sense. If you make more than $1 million a year, you should pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent. That means that if you make less than $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of Americans do, you shouldn’t see your taxes go up — and we won’t be adding to the deficit.
There’s a very real chance that the recovery could be imperiled if Congress succumbs to the lure of austerity again. And so Obama is urging Congress to keep acting. But he's doing more than that. He’s also articulating the political dynamic as he hopes it will develop over coming months — one that, if the White House gets its way, will be a self reinforcing one.
Republicans have been attacking the White House over its recent suggestion that it views the payroll tax cut extension as the last “must-do” item on Obama’s jobs agenda. Today’s appearance suggests that whatever the prospects of actually realizing the remaining items, Obama will continue to hammer the unpopular Congress to, yes, get them done. The White House is hoping that the same thing will happen in these cases that took place with the payroll tax cut: Not acting will become politically untenable.
Of course, the payroll tax cut fight was a far easier one than these others will be: Republicans found themselves opposing a tax cut for the middle class. But a battle over the Buffett Rule and businesses sending jobs overseas could play favorably for the White House, too: A recent National Journal poll found that huge majorities agree with the White House position on those issues. What’s more, if the recovery continues to accelerate, it’s not impossible to imagine that opposing Obama’s remaining jobs creation items could become ever more politically difficult.
In his much-discussed piece on the Obama presidency, James Fallows theorized that Obama had hit on the right formula to deal with GOP obstructionism “just in time.” He’s following the Truman model: With his legislative agenda mostly stalled, he’s resorting to the “only tool that is uniquely his: the ability to speak to all of the public.” First he laid the groundwork “by sounding reasonable and conciliatory,” and “then, with his bona fides established, the president can move into the next election, making a clear case for his side.”
Indeed, the bet Obama is making here is that the above template will work in his favor even if he doesn’t get his way.