President Barack Obama’s reelection strategy seems running against the Republican Congress. The Democrat is trying to portray the opposition as obstructionist and claiming that their unwillingness to enact stimulus legislation is to blame for the country’s lackluster economic recovery.
The president faces dismal polling numbers for his reelection battle next year. Roughly six out of ten Americans no longer approve of his job performance. When asked specifically about Obama’s economic policy, no more than a third of the electorate says to have confidence in his ability to turn the recovery around.
Last month, the president proposed an additional $450 billion in deficit spending to create jobs in education and infrastructure and pay for income tax cuts and unemployment insurance. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives says it won’t enact the legislation however, especially as it would be coupled with major tax increases that disproportionately affect the wealthiest of Americans — or “job creators” in Republican jargon.
When the president tries to paint the Republicans as the party of the rich, what he won’t mention is that his own party has struggled to unite behind his jobs proposal. Democrats still control the Senate but haven’t put his plan up for a vote, despite Obama’s call on Congress to “pass this bill now.”
When the president claims that Republicans haven’t bothered to explain what exactly they oppose in his plan, he skips over the fact that they have done so — in detail. When he claims that his jobs bill is composed of ideas that have historically enjoyed bipartisan support, he won’t mention that Republicans never endorsed the notion of Keynesian stimulus nor have they ever embraced tax increases.
Political analysts suspect that the White House never expected its jobs plan would pass. It’s an election ploy designed to help the president win against the “party of no” that won’t do anything as the country slides into recession again.
There is a precedent for successfully running against Congress. Harry Truman unexpectedly won reelection in 1948 in part because he campaigned against a “do nothing Congress” that was dominated by Republicans who opposed much of the New Deal legacy.
Unlike Obama, Truman didn’t have a friendly legislature until his second term. The incumbent enjoyed Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress during the first two years of his presidency and managed to get a lot of things done.
Democrats in Congress spent $800 billion on an economic stimulus plan, $30 billion in small business loans, $30 billion for mortgage modification, $3 billion on cash for clunkers, enacted automaker bailouts, health-care and financial industry reform, credit card price controls and extended unemployment insurance. The only administration priority that Congress blocked between 2008 and 2010 was pollution legislation.
Even after Republicans won control of half of the legislature in November’s midterm election, a lame-duck Congress enacted a payroll tax cut, personal income tax cuts for middle-class Americans and more jobless benefits.
For the president to pretend that the recovery has stalled because Republicans are fighting him now is disingenuous. He was able to accomplish almost everything that he wanted for two years but the prospects for economic growth are far from looking up.
Unemployment is at 9 percent and much higher when counting the millions of Americans who have simply given up looking for work and aren’t asking for a government handout. Business and consumer confidence is low. Banks are hesitant to finance mortgages and startups. There will not be a recovery during Obama’s first term. Indeed, the president admitted in an interview with ABC News two weeks that a lot of people are worse off today than they were when he took office. So the only thing he can do to convince Americans to vote for him again is claim that the other guys would do worse.