Divided Democrats shift strategy
By Ben Pershing
President Obama's State of the Union address seems to have done little to clarify the way forward for his agenda, as congressional Democrats are prepared to shift their focus to the economy but remain unsure how to complete health care or lift themselves out of the electoral doldrums.
"The White House on Thursday signaled the outlines of its strategy for breaking the partisan logjam holding up President Obama's agenda," the New York Times reports, "saying Democrats would move quickly to underline their commitment to fixing the broken economy and to build an election-year case against Republicans if they do not cooperate." Rahm Emanuel tells the paper the White House hopes the Senate takes up a jobs bill next week, then Obama's proposal for a new fee on banks and then the financial regulatory reform bill before returning to health care. Politico observes "it's clear health care is already falling to the back of the legislative line, behind the Democrats' feverish new focus on jobs and the economy. Health care reform didn't even make the cut when ... Chuck Schumer ticked off the party's priorities Thursday."
The Washington Post writes that "Democrats remained in disarray Thursday about how to move forward, with at least some pointing at the White House as the cause of the legislative standstill gripping Capitol Hill." On health care, Politico reports "the administration seems to have decided that they need to stop talking process and start emphasizing substance. ... Indeed, many Democrats feel that the relentless coverage of how reform is getting done- including legislative deal making and intraparty conflict - has cost the legislation much of its public support." Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid both vow that the party will still do health care, but there remains no consensus on how. The Wall Street Journal quotes the chairman of PhRMA saying "the group 'hasn't withdrawn support' for the version of health-care reform passed by the Senate, but that the Massachusetts election has 'thrown everything up in the air a bit.'"
If a jobs bill will be at the front of the line, what will be in it? Bloomberg reports Obama "plans to announce details today of a $33 billion package of incentives for small businesses to encourage hiring and wage increases as he refocuses on economic concerns in an election year." USA Today says "some of the nation's job creators are dubious" of Obama's proposal to give employers tax credits for adding jobs. Economists tell Politico the president's "job-creation program could produce a short-term political boost, but it's unlikely to significantly stem job losses and reduce the unemployment rate anytime soon." Harry Reid was planning to unveil the Senate's jobs bill Thursday but postponed it to incorporate the package of proposals coming from the White House. The Hill says "Senate Democrats are haggling over the cost and scope" of the jobs package.
Obama went to Florida Thursday to announce grants for high-speed rail just as the Senate was voting to raise the federal debt limit. "Together, the two developments spotlighted the administration's juggling act as the president calls for more spending to boost employment, while endorsing fiscal discipline to tame a record federal budget deficit," the Wall Street Journal writes. (The paper notes that the Tampa event was "the first joint political appearance" between Obama and Vice President Biden since last February. Discuss.) Paul Krugman mocks "deficit peacocks" -- Obama and Republicans both included -- who strut their commitment to slashing spending even when economic conditions makes cuts unwise. Obama now has another controversy that could distract from his economic message: "Facing mounting pressure from New York politicians concerned about costs and security, the Obama administration on Thursday began considering moving the trial of the chief organizer of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks out of Manhattan, administration officials said," the New York Times reports.
George Will writes that Obama "tiptoed Wednesday night along the seam that bifurcates the Democratic Party's brain. The seam separates that brain's John Quincy Adams lobe from its Sigmund Freud lobe." Translation: Part of the speech was about telling Americans "what is good for them -- health-care reform, carbon rationing, etc. -- even if the dimwits do not desire it," while the rest concerned settling "for deferred and diminished but achievable results." Peggy Noonan says presidents should be firm with Congress: "You don't let them blur your picture and make you more common. You don't let them call the big shots." In the State of the Union, she found a "contradiction at its heart. It repeatedly asserted that Washington is the answer to everything. At the same time it painted a picture of Washington as a sick and broken place. It was a speech that argued against itself: You need us to heal you. Don't trust us, we think of no one but ourselves."
The day after the State of the Union, the commentariat was still buzzing about Samuel Alito's mouthing "not true" when Obama criticized last week's Supreme Court campaign finance ruling. But while the coverage Wednesday night focused on Alito's seeming breach of decorum, some of Thursday's stories shifted to whether it was Obama who had stepped out of line with his comments before a television audience of millions. "It is not unusual for presidents to disagree publicly with Supreme Court decisions. But they tend to do so at news conferences and in written statements, not to the justices' faces," the New York Times writes. The Washington Post reports "legal experts said they had never seen anything quite like it, a rare and unvarnished showdown between two political branches during what is usually the careful choreography of the State of the Union address." ABC News says "Obama shares some of the blame for this contretemps -- and he knows it."
The Legal Times does some research and finds "Presidents have mentioned the Supreme Court by name only nine times since , and it would be hard to categorize many of those nine as criticisms." The Los Angeles Times notes "the clash between Alito and Obama has some history behind it" -- Obama voted against Alito's nomination in the Senate, Alito wrote the Lily Ledbetter decision that Obama strongly criticized, and Alito skipped a "friendly meeting" at the Supreme Court last January with Obama and Vice President Biden.
The House GOP is in Baltimore for its annual retreat, awaiting today's visit by Obama. "Emboldened by an unexpected victory in Massachusetts and frustrated with a 'partisan' State of the Union address, House Republicans are eager to meet with" the president, the Hill writes. Obama's visit "is unlikely to change Republican behavior," the Los Angeles Times writes, as "Republican leaders did not seem to be in a frame of mind for compromising." In Hawaii, Michael Steele and his fellow Republican National Committee officials are lapping up the warmth (at this writing, Honolulu was 52 degrees warmer than Washington) even as they squabble over the party's future. The Washington Post says "Steele defended his decision to convene the meeting at a lush beach resort even as millions of Americans are without jobs," as his opposition to a "purity test" for Republican candidates helped doom the proposal. Dick Armey has told "Steele that his plans to align the Republican Party with the 'tea party' movement will fail unless Mr. Steele proves his bona fides on taxing-and-spending issues," the Washington Times reports.
January 29, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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