The urgency in President Obama’s tone and words came through in the opening minutes of his address to a Joint Session of Congress.
The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours. The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.
Obama has a jobs bill he wants passed. A one-year, $450 billion measure that is filled with programs -- tax cuts, infrastructure projects, help for the unemployed and returning veterans -- that have had bipartisan support in the past and that he said is paid for. And he sold it hard. The refrain, “Pass this jobs bill,” went from being a repeated line in a speech to a hammer over the head of Congress.
Obama has given this do-or-die speech before. For the stimulus package. For health care. But this time was different for three reasons.
One: He’s sending up a bill!
“I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away,” Obama said.
This is the first time in his presidency that he’s sent a bill to Congress. That means no more whining from the House and Senate that the president hasn’t told them what he wants. No longer will they be able to use that as an excuse for inaction or to fulfill visions of grandeur that freak out the end up freaking out the country. If Congress doesn’t like the American Jobs Act then Congress is going to have to present an alternative. The constitutional law professor who came to Washington committed to the ideal that Congress is a co-equal branch of government has learned that it must directed firmly by the executive.
Two: ‘The One’ isn’t content to go this one alone
“I also ask every American who agrees to lift your voice and tell the people who are gathered here tonight that you want action now,” Obama said.
During the debt-ceiling fight, Obama enlisted the help of the American people to let their voices be heard in Congress. And they did. Calling on them to get involved again is essential. The problems this nation faces will never get solved if the governed don’t let those entrusted with governing know they’re watching, listening and aren’t going to put up with too much more nonsense -- from either side of the aisle.
Three: Obama’s gonna fight
“[T]his plan is the right thing to do right now,” Obama said. “You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country.”
The president will take his message on the road. Tomorrow, he’s off to Richmond, Virg., the backyard of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R). Then to the home state of Speaker John Boehner (R) when he visits Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 13. And a senior administration official tells me that he’s going to keep it up until the American Jobs Act is passed. If Congress drags its feet, Obama made it clear tonight (and during his bus tour last month) that he is not afraid to hammer away until it sends him a bill he can sign.
What would be even more helpful is if the administration made better and more extensive use of the cabinet. Secretaries Arnie Duncan (Education), Ray LaHood (Transportation), Hilda Solis (Labor) and others should be on television and radio between now and when the bill clears Congress. And, again, if nothing comes out of Congress, they, too, should hammer away at Congress until it gets something done.
I know there’s been a lot of skepticism about whether the politics of the moment will allow us to pass this jobs plan – or any jobs plan....And maybe some of you have decided that those differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box.
But know this: the next election is fourteen months away. And the people who sent us here – the people who hired us to work for them – they don’t have the luxury of waiting fourteen months. Some of them are living week to week; paycheck to paycheck; even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.
Unemployment remains sky-high. Job growth is anemic. And the economy might be on the precipice of another recession. As the president said and as we all know, people are hurting. Will Obama’s latest attempt to take the paddles to the economy work? The only way to find out is to try. Or for Congress to come up with a plan he can sign. But the one alternative that is not possible is doing nothing.
More on President Obama’s jobs speech from PostOpinions