Obama’s speech in Michigan today is getting some attention because it debuted a new theme, in effect wrapping his demand for Congressional action on jobs in the language of patriotism. He blamed inaction on the “refusal of some folks in Congress to put the country ahead of party.”
While that’s interesting, there’s another aspect of the speech that deserves a look: The President specifically called on Americans to give their representatives an earful about pivoting to jobs.
When Obama recently urged Americans to call their Representatives during the debt ceiling fight, jamming up phone lines, some pundits gave Obama a very hard time, arguing that he was actually endangering the sacrosanct negotiations underway in Congress. Today, however, Obama again called on Americans to pressure Congress, this time on jobs, insisting that they vent to their Reps:
if you agree with me — it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican or an independent — you’ve got to let Congress know. You’ve got to tell them you’ve had enough of the theatrics. You’ve had enough of the politics. Stop sending out press releases. Start passing some bills that we all know will help our economy right now. They’ve got to hear from you.
Let me be specific. I’ll give you some examples. You’ve got to tell them to extend the payroll tax cut, so middle-class families will continue to have more money to spend. We passed this in December. The average family received $1,000 from that tax cut, and you need to get it again, because the economy is still weak. It’s going to help you make ends meet, but it’s also going to mean more customers for businesses. It will increase demand. It’s right for the economy, and I would sign that bill today if it came to my desk.
Tell Congress to get past their differences and send me a road construction bill — so that companies can put tens of thousands of people to work right now building our roads and bridges and airports and seaports. I mean, think about it. America used to have the best stuff — best roads, best airports, best seaports. We’re slipping behind because we’re not investing in it, because of politics and gridlock. Do you want to put people to work right now rebuilding America? You’ve got to send that message to Congress.
White House officials have been privately saying that they hope the August recess shifts the dynamic a bit in their favor by exposing members of Congress to constituent anger about the economy. Now Obama is explicitly trying to egg that on — he’s trying to harness that anger, tie it to frustration with Washington dysfunction, and channel the whole package in the direction of Congress in general and Republicans in particular.
Dems and outside allies are demanding that Obama figure out a way to stake out a bolder posture on the economy and pick a fight with Republicans over job creation. Today’s speech seemed like bit of a step in that direction, though it falls short of what writers like Katrina Vanden Heuvel are suggesting: That he write his own jobs bill and launch a major offensive on its behalf.
The truth is that set of job creation tools realistically at Obama’s disposal, and the measures he is pushing for, are really quite modest given the scale of the challenges we face. And the fact that the President needs to use the bully pulpit to push for even these measures shows how dim the prospects for real government action on the economy have grown.