Last night in the Senate the president couldn’t get 60 votes for cloture on a chunk of his jobs bill. Two Democrats (Sens. Ben Nelson and Mark Pryor) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) voted with the Republicans, but had it gone to a vote, President Obama probably would have lost far more of his own party’s votes. In any event, falling 10 votes short of cloture is an embarrassment for the White House. Then Democrats had to scramble to block another measure. As the Associated Press reported:
The Senate has blocked Republican-backed legislation that would prevent the government from withholding 3 percent of payments to government contractors.
The legislation failed to get the 60 votes needed to end a Democratic filibuster late Thursday. Many Democrats and President Barack Obama support the idea but opposed it Thursday because it would be paid for with $30 billion in cuts from domestic agency spending. The White House promised a veto.
The withholding law was passed in 2006 by a GOP-controlled Congress. The idea then was to make sure contractors couldn’t duck their taxes. Advocates of repealing it say it will help create jobs, especially from contractors with smaller profit margins on large projects.
On this one, the White House lost even more Senate Democrats — Al Franken (Minn.), Kay Hagen (N.C.), Amy Klobuchar Minn.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Jon Tester (Mont.). In short, the White House commands little respect even in its own ranks these days.
There is a reason for that, of course. Obama has become a weight around the necks of his own party’s members, a drag on their election prospects. Politico reports:
In every major race next year featuring a Senate Democratic incumbent, Obama is polling worse than the incumbent — in some cases, by a substantial margin — according to publicly released surveys.
So rather than running for reelection on Obama’s coattails, these Senate Democrats may end up facing questions over whether they can win with the president on the ballot. . . .
Obama’s poor poll numbers, due in large part to high unemployment, the sputtering U.S. economy and record budget red ink, are shaping up as a big factor in Senate races across the country. Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats next year versus only 10 for Republicans in a chamber controlled by Democrats 53 to 47.
“Everyone is going to have to ‘go native,’ ” one Senate Democratic strategist said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They have to focus on local issues, stay laser-focused on that and not worry about what Obama is doing or saying.” Senate Democrats point to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2010 reelection campaign, with which Reid was able to overcome horrific approval ratings and a GOP wave, as their template for victory in other tough races.
You can therefore expect many more defections on key votes in the Senate. But Democrats can’t change the past, of course. All of the Democrats up for reelection were the 60th vote, in effect, for cloture on Obamacare. That is an ongoing liability.
News surfaces every day that Obamacare is a legislative nightmare and fiscal train wreck. The Post’s Robert Samuelson explains:
Controlling health spending was a major promise. After all, it’s called the Affordable Care Act, and boosters argue that it will subdue runaway spending. It almost certainly won’t. One prominent skeptic is Arnold Relman, the former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. . . .
Relman is unimpressed with the ACA provisions intended to control costs: for example, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). It’s a group of 15 experts who would recommend changes if government health spending rose too rapidly.
“However, the law stipulates that the IPAB cannot reduce Medicare benefits or increase Medicare premiums, and it defers any proposed reductions in payments to hospitals for a few years,” Relman writes. The IPAB would mainly cut physicians’ Medicare reimbursement rates, he says. But doctors could “easily” offset these cuts “by providing more services, such as performing more diagnostic tests.”
Rather than be a forward-looking, cost-containing reform, the president’s signature accomplishment is now derided by prominent figures on the left and the right. (“Limiting health-care spending requires explicit ceilings on the dollars put into the system; and changing incentives for doctors and hospitals will create a superior delivery system. We should be debating ideas like these, because overhauling the health-care system is important in its own right and for controlling federal spending. Instead, the ACA skews the agenda. Many of its promises rest, like CLASS, on unrealistic assumptions. Disappointments loom, and the needed debate is deferred.”)
Disappointments loom elsewhere for the Democrats. Americans’ disposable income is down. Unemployment and the misery index are up. As Peter Wehner put it, “The president can go on all the bus tours he wants, set ablaze as many strawmen as he likes, and question Republican’s love of country to his heart’s content. He can pretend the GOP has not put forward a slew of alternatives to his proposals. He can describe the GOP’s economic plan in cartoonish ways, like saying they want to have ‘dirtier air, dirtier water, [and] less people with health insurance.’ He can blame his problems on his predecessor, the Arab Spring, ATMs, earthquakes, tsunamis, and for that matter, the four seasons. He can even say, as he did to ABC’s Jake Tapper earlier this week, that ‘all’ – not some, not many, not most, but ‘all’ — ‘the choices we’ve made have been the right ones.’ But what Obama cannot deny is the data.” And that is why the country at large and the Democrats in Congress have every right to be sick of this president.
His personality — prickly and condescending — has not worn well, and he has suffered from overexposure. But Americans will put up with a lot if the economy is strong and the country is heading in the right direction. Currently, neither the voters nor Democrats believe that to be the case. You can then see why Democrats are in no mood to risk their own necks to bolster a president who is presiding over an economic mess and a political disaster for his party.