Perhaps I’m just stating the obvious here, but we have deadlock, my friends. Democrats may want to pass some more active policies to deal with the economic situation, but Republicans in Congress have shown that they are unwilling to sign on to any legislation that even smells like government spending (and now they may even be rejecting tax cuts on the grounds that they are not permanent). Washington has pretty much given up on finding any significant laws that can pass through the House and Senate, and make it to the President’s desk for his signature.
All that remains is to make symbolic gestures, and, perhaps, occasionally pass some relatively noncontroversial, small policy measures. I’ll leave aside the reason why that is for a moment, and talk about what is left for Congress and the President to do besides twiddle their thumbs for the next year and a half.
Thursday night, President Obama will make a speech about a jobs plan. This plan is projected to be a combination of “too little, too late” and “impossible to pass through Congress.” You read that right. Not only is the President likely to propose things that are not nearly dramatic enough to make a dent in the economic situation that we find ourselves in, but he is unlikely to find support for even the modest and, I presume, politically moderate reforms that he will propose. Why would he do such a thing? Why would he choose to make a dramatic public speech about how to address our jobs problem with the knowledge that his proposals would neither be particularly effective nor have the support to actually become law?
Welcome to round two of what I like to call the “Deadlock Blame Game.” The premise of the game is that nothing that its players do will result in a practical, legislative outcome that they want. The strategy in such a game is the same for both players: Make the other side look as intransigent as possible. You may remember round one all too well. During the debt ceiling debate, the main political strategy for both sides was to accuse the other side of being unreasonable. The administration kept moving further and further to the right with the knowledge that, even with that movement, the Republican House would not be willing to pass a debt ceiling increase. Speaker Boehner, on the other hand, managed to find a reason why the administration was to blame for every impasse.
It’s arguable that the administration won that one, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. Though Republicans in Congress saw their approval ratings drop, the President saw a slight drop, as well, and laid the foundation for similar battles down the road. There was a major difference between that round and this round, though: In the end, something actually had to be passed. In this case, there is no impending and identifiable disaster – just a slow, intractable economic stagnation.
Going forward, the President will continue to try to be “the reasonable one.” He will continue to suggest reforms that may, in some way or another, help our economic situation. In order to argue that he is reaching out and trying to actually pass something, these reforms will be relatively small-bore and many will have been supported by at least some Republicans in the past. Since there is no chance of anything significant passing Congress anyway, it does not concern the President that these proposals are considerably further to the right than what the President actually wants.
The House Republicans will continue to take shots at the President from the sidelines. They will point to the proposals that they’ve already made (which they are perfectly aware cannot pass the Senate or gain the President’s signature), and argue that it is in fact the Democrats who are blocking meaningful reforms. Many Congressional Republicans seem to think that the best way to create jobs is to repeal the major legislative initiatives of Obama’s presidency, and they know that they will not be able to accomplish that with President Obama in the White House and a Democratic majority in the Senate.
So each side can just stay in its corner, and continue finding its own explanation for why we’re in this mess. Each side can continue to offer proposals that never have any hope of passing and blame the other side for things continuing to go wrong. It’s hard to see any other strategy prevailing in the near future. The question is, does the deadlock blame game have a winner?