By Erica Werner
Washington — In President Barack Obama’s sales pitch for his jobs bill, there are two versions of reality: The one in his speeches and the one actually unfolding in Washington.
When Obama accuses Republicans of standing in the way of his nearly $450 billion plan, he ignores the fact that his own party has struggled to unite behind the proposal.
When the president says Republicans haven’t explained what they oppose in the plan, he skips over the fact that Republicans who control the House actually have done that in detail.
And when he calls on Congress to “pass this bill now,” he slides past the point that Democrats control the Senate and were never prepared to move immediately, given other priorities. Senators are expected to vote Tuesday on opening debate on the bill, a month after the president unveiled it with a call for its immediate passage.
To be sure, Obama is not the only one engaging in rhetorical excesses. But he is the president, and as such, his constant remarks on the bill draw the most attention and scrutiny.
The disconnect between what Obama says about his jobs bill and what stands as the political reality flow from his broader aim: to rally the public behind his cause and get Congress to act, or, if not, to pin blame on Republicans.
He is waging a campaign, one in which nuance and context and competing responses don’t always fit in if they don’t help make the case.
For example, when Obama says his jobs plan is made up of ideas that historically have had bipartisan support, he stops the point there. Not mentioned is that Republicans never have embraced the tax increases that he is proposing to cover the cost of his plan.
Likewise, from city to city, Obama is demanding that Congress act (he means Republicans) while it has been clear for weeks that the GOP will not support his entire bill, to say the least. Individual elements of it might well pass, such as Obama’s proposal to extend and expand a payroll tax cut. But Republicans strongly oppose the president’s proposed new spending and his plan to raise taxes on millionaires to pay for the package.
The fight over the legislative proposal has become something much bigger: a critical test of the president’s powers of persuading the public heading into the 2012 presidential campaign, and of Republicans’ ability to deny him a win and reap victory for themselves.
“He knows it’s not going to pass. He’s betting that voters won’t pick up on it, or even if they do they will blame Congress and he can run against the ‘do-nothing Congress,'” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development.
John Sides, political science professor at George Washington University, said Obama’s approach on the jobs bill was “more about campaigning than governing.”
“He’s mostly just going around talking about this and drawing contrasts with what the Republicans want and what he wants and not really trying to work these legislative levers he might be able to use to get this passed,” Sides said. “That just suggests to me that he is ready to use a failed jobs bill as a campaign message against the Republicans.”
The president’s opponents aren’t exactly laying it all out, either.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to force a vote on the bill last week, innocently claiming that the president was entitled to one. McConnell knew full well that the result would be failure for the legislation and an embarrassment for Obama.
House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, claimed that Obama has “given up on the country and decided to campaign full-time” instead of seeking common ground with the GOP. But Boehner neglected to mention that Obama’s past attempts at compromise with Republicans often yielded scant results, as Obama himself pointed out.
The approach for Obama, who is seeking a second term in a dismal economy, is far different than the one he took when running for president. He criticized the GOP then, but talked about ending blue-state and red-state America, replacing it with one America, fixing the broken political system, and fundamentally changing Washington.
That ended up being change he could not bring about, and now analysts say Obama may have little choice but to campaign more narrowly by attacking opponents rather than trying to bring people together.
Obama’s attempts at compromise with the GOP on the debt ceiling and budget won him little in the way of policy, instead engendering frustration from Democrats who saw him as caving to Republican demands.
The new, combative Obama isn’t looking for compromise. He’s looking for a win. And if he can’t get the legislative victory he says he wants, he has made clear that he’s more than willing to take a political win.
It is, he acknowledges, a result his campaign for his jobs bill is designed to achieve.
Talking up the bill in an appearance last month with African-American news websites, Obama said: “I need people to be out there promoting this and pushing this and making sure that everybody understands the details of what this would mean, so that one of two things happen: Either Congress gets it done, or if Congress doesn’t get it done, people know exactly what’s holding it up.”