There were two ways that the Obama jobs push could work, neither of which inspire much confidence in our economy or our political system. The first was that the parties would come together on something small and simple enough to gain common ground among lawmakers. That would likely have only a small impact on job growth, but at least it would be something. Or the parties would use the standoff as a chance to outline their campaign positions heading into 2012, accomplishing little but revving up their cases to the American public.
By all accounts, this is moving in the second direction.
The president signed off on the Senate Democrats' approach to pay for a $447 billion jobs package through a surtax on the super-rich, and continued to push Congress to pass the bill or come up with an alternative. If Republicans oppose it, "they need to explain to me, but more important, to their constituencies sand the American people, why they're opposed and what they would do," Obama said Thursday at a White House press conference. "Do they have a plan that would have a similar impact? Because if they do, I'm happy to hear it." It's hard to avoid the impression that the White House concluded long ago that compromise with Republicans in Congress is so unlikely, it's not even worth aiming for.
Republicans responded by trying to take Obama up on his offer, or at least give that appearance. Repeating a tactic from earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to suspend Senate rules and pass the jobs bill as an amendment to another piece of legislation to rein in Chinese currency manipulation. Because the Senate Democratic leadership has blocked amendments on the bill, this one would require 67 votes to pass in the Senate, a hopelessly high hurdle. But while it won't accomplish much in terms of policy, the maneuver serves the purpose of furthering the GOP's message that the president's plan is all for show. "The president demanded a vote on the bill," says Don Stewart, spokesman for McConnell. "We're giving him that vote."
While the president spoke at the morning press conference, House Speaker John Boehner accused Obama of campaigning instead of governing. "Nothing has disappointed me more than what has happened in the last five weeks," Boehner said at the "Washington Ideas Forum" on Thursday.
Democrats, naturally, blast the GOP for what they call a cheap parliamentary trick, and deny that Thursday's vote is any sort of referendum on the bill. They are planning for a vote soon, likely next week, on a revised jobs package that includes a 5.6 percent surtax on those making more than $1 million per year and would take effect in 2013. (After announcing a 5 percent additional tax yesterday, Senate Democrats increased the rate slightly to make up for the delayed implementation.)
So the two sides are bickering—nothing new there. But there's little sign that either side is working toward any sort of compromise. While Obama has been pitching the plan across the country, there's little talk that Democratic leaders in the House or Senate are making any moves to work with GOP leadership or Republican factions to build consensus. Republicans are focused on finding ways to turn the blame back to Obama. It sure smells like campaign politics, and lawmakers have only a few days to prove anyone wrong.