Well, he did it. President Obama went big. Big for him, anyway. While the presidents plan isn’t bold enough to satisfy many progressives, he accomplished something that may cause Republicans some regret if they fail to realize it and the president presses his advantage. By presenting a plan that, however modest it is in reality, will do more to help the economy than Republicans admit they’ve even tried to -- with ideas the GOP has, as the president noted in his speech, supported in the past -- and proceeding to pound his "pass this bill, the president is sending a clear message to the American people: "If Republicans won’t get behind this effort to actually create jobs, then they won’t get behind anything."
In other words, the president has given the GOP yet another undeserved chance to put up or shut up. So far, Republicans seem incapable of doing either.
The entire Republican field for 2012 went on record opposing the plan even before the president's words stopped echoing off the walls of the capitol building.
"Unfortunately it seems that every time the president of the United States speaks his policies have cost the American people both jobs and future prosperity," says Michele Bachmann.
This from a woman who just over a month ago was willing to have the United States default on its debt — despite the economic disaster that would have ensued.
"America needs jobs, smaller government, less spending and a president with the courage to offer more than yet another speech," said Rick Perry, whose "Texas Miracle" amounted mirage, creating jobs with such low wages that his state now leads the country … in the number of citizens going hungry.
"I’m a conservative businessman," said Mitt Romney, "And that is what America needs if we’re going to get our economy going. I put out a booklet which describes the things I’d do to get this economy going again. There are 59 different steps that have to be taken. And President Obama, there’s no way he could do something like that because he just doesn’t understand it."
This, from a guy whose book should have been titled "How to do nothing for the economy in 59 easy steps," and which spends over 100 pages rehashing the same job-killing policies we've already heard from the GOP. The best that can be said about is that it's available for free as an ebook from the Amazon bookstore. Get it there and least you can be assured it won't kill any trees. Jobs, yes. Trees? No.
"The American people are tired of President Obama’s empty rhetoric and failed policies; they're desperately searching for leadership and, above all, results. Tonight's list of regurgitated half-measures demonstrates that President Obama fundamentally doesn't understand how to turn our economy around," said John Huntsman.
Regurgitated? What's regurgitated is Huntsman's jobs plan that relies on tax cuts for the rich and tax increases for everyone else. So much for being the "reasonable Republican" in the bunch.
"All the ideas that didn't work with 800 billion dollars he now wants to try to get it to work with 400 billion. He has zero pay-fors. He's got to quit being a candidate, and actually be president for awhile," says Newt Gingrich.
Newt, who has the distinction among the GOP field of getting at least one or two things right, shouldn't talk too loudly about who should quit being a candidate — being one without a campaign staff himself.
For crying out loud, Republicans gave the man a standing ovation at least once, during the speech. OK. It was on trade agreements, and Democrats understandably remained seated. But still. Really. Come on.
Let's be honest. Republicans were opposed to the presidents plan before they or anyone else had any idea what was in it. The opposed it because it was his plan — President Barack Obama's plan. They not only opposed it before they heard it, they were so opposed to it they didn't want to show up to hear it.
It fell to John Boehner to remind Republicans that the president was their "guest," coming to "their house" at their "invitation." It turns out that it could end up being the other way around, that the president is really inviting the GOP to his party, and will keep inviting them over the next 14 months, reminding Americans that when invited to join in turning the economy around, Republicans merely delivered their regrets.
Republicans may have more regrets than they know if they, and cause even more Americans to have even more regrets about the Republican in the House if they fail to support a jobs plan that economists are giving a "tentative thumbs up."
That's just a sampling, but can anyone remember Republicans presenting a plan that would accomplish even half as much, since the 2010 elections? They gave us a plan that would cut 700,000 jobs, which was repudiated by 300 economists. Anyone remember what John Boehner had to say about the news that his party's plan would kill 700,000 jobs? I do: "So be it."
I'll give Boehner credit for at least having the guts to say it. The best that Republicans could do in terms of a positive response to a relatively modest jobs plan that still beat the pants of anything they've bothered to offer since 2010 was Eric Cantor's mealy-mouthed response.
Republicans will turn their focus to jobs after they pass a stopgap bill to continue funding the government, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said on Wednesday, admitting that the focus so far this year has been on cuts rather than job growth.
"We’ve been about cut and grow. The fact is for the last eight months plus, we’ve been about cuts," he said. "That’s why it is imperative that all of us join together [and] work with the president to see how we can grow this economy."
WalMart has brought back layaway, the economy is so bad, and apparently Republicans put growth on layaway to focus on cuts for eight months. But now they're really going to focus on jobs. Hey, weren't those cuts supposed to create jobs? Oh, wait. They ended up costing over 200,000 jobs on the state and local level. Let's not forget what John Boehner had to say when he was told how many jobs those cuts would kill: "So be it."
That may be the president's other major accomplishment: he finally got the Republicans to even pretend to want to focus on jobs. Finally. But they'll still have a few more cuts to focus on, when they vote on the next continuing resolution.
The bill will likely take government funding through "late fall," Cantor said, though he declined to comment on specific dates.
The bill should cut discretionary spending by about $7 billion, according to a deal set in place during the debt ceiling increase in August. But some House Republicans would like to see further cuts as part of the upcoming bill.
In an Aug. 17 memo, Cantor hinted at the upcoming tension over where — and how much — to cut spending as part of the upcoming continuing resolution.
"While all of us would like to have seen a lower discretionary appropriations ceiling for the upcoming fiscal year, the debt limit agreement did set a level of spending that is a real cut from the current year level," he reminded members. "I believe it is in our interest to enact into law full-year appropriations bills at this new lower level."
It seems Republicans don't get it, and don't have any plans to get it. The president may have taken it easy on Republicans, by not calling them out and taking them to task for obstructing every effort sustain and create jobs in this recession, and doing everything in their power to stall any hope of recovery for millions of Americans. But in doing so, the president may have also given them "enough rope," and if the GOP keeps its head in the sand, President Obama could press his advantage as he appears to be doing already by taking his message to Eric Cantor's back yard.
The president gave the GOP a chance to put up or shut up. Their failure to do either suggests Republicans don't get that the president's biggest success last night was changing the conversation, and maybe even leading it for a change.
But for now, Obama’s speech was an important first step in changing the conversation and defining the debate on his own terms. I particularly liked the section where he invoked Abraham Lincoln to argue for the essential role of government in America. Think of it as the president’s long-awaited reply to the Tea Party. Said Obama:
If the choice next November is between Obama in this speech vs. Republicans in Congress or the GOP hopefuls debating last night, Obama will win.
After last night, it's the president's fight to win if he continues to put his case before American voters, and the GOP's fight to lose if they fail to join this new conversation about jobs and the economy.