President Obama raised his speechifying game Thursday night, as he had to do. Another billet doux inviting hostile congressional Republicans to please sit around the campfire and sing “Kumbaya” wouldn’t have cut it. What Obama did, instead, was issue a challenge -- and, not incidentally, lay out the opening themes of his reelection campaign.
Perhaps the most significant line in Obama’s speech was his promise to take his jobs message to the people in “every corner of the country.” He told the assembled members of Congress that if they balk at passing his American Jobs Act, he will go over their heads. That answered the obvious question: What does Obama intend to do when House Republicans ball up his bill and throw it in the trash?
The measures Obama proposed are eminently reasonable. Who could argue with repairing the nation’s infrastructure, modernizing our children’s schools or providing jobs for brave returning veterans? The program is full of tons of GOP-friendly tax cuts, and it will be entertaining to watch Republicans twist themselves into pretzels to reject so many of their own ideas. But reject them they surely will. The party’s campaign message for 2012 is that Obama is always wrong about everything. At this point, does anyone expect John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to say, “Great ideas, Mr. President, we’ll get all this stuff right through.”
Senate Republicans will threaten to filibuster and House Republicans will just say no. Then what? “We are not going to be overly concerned about their initial answer,” a senior administration official said in an interview before the speech. “We’re not going to say, ‘Okay, we’re going back to the drawing board.’ We are going to make the case for this.”
The senior official said the president’s package, which will cost $447 billion, should create between 1.5 million and 2 million jobs and perhaps boost GDP by 2 percentage points. Those sound like pretty generous estimates to me. Even if they aren’t, by Election Day the economy would hardly be roaring. Unemployment would be lower, but still painfully high. Conditions still wouldn’t be ideal for an incumbent president seeking reelection.
But if -- I mean, when -- Republicans reject Obama’s jobs agenda, the president will be able to tell voters that he’ll never stop fighting for jobs and prosperity -- and that Republicans will never stop defending tax breaks for “millionaires and billionaires.” I think the campaign just began.
More on President Obama’s jobs speech from PostOpinions