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Obama: I’m Done Working with Congress

Pundits decrying the level of rancor between the Obama White House and Congress should hold onto their hats–it’s about to get worse, if the New York Times is right about the president’s planned jobs speech to a Joint Session of Congress.

Most of the story is filled with the standard tsk-tsking of those obstructionist Republicans, and in fact is more blatant in this regard than usual. But buried late in the article is a window into the two-part strategy the president will deploy at the speech: blame his captive audience, then announce he will be enacting policies that don’t require congressional approval. On the first, he will propose legislation the White House admits Congress won’t pass:

That sets up an opportunity, as Democrats see it, to saddle Republicans with the blame for a weak economy.

“The president wants to work with Republicans and Democrats to create jobs and grow the economy,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “If nothing happens, it will be because Republicans in Congress made a conscious decision to do nothing. And that is a choice that will have tremendous consequences for the country.”

Mr. Obama also will propose added spending that Republicans are even more certain to oppose.

So Obama has scheduled a Joint Session of Congress to propose two kinds of plans: spending the Republicans oppose, and spending the Republicans really, really oppose. But wait, there’s a third:

To hold down overall federal costs, and to avoid having to go to Congress, Mr. Obama and his advisers have been looking for ways to divert existing government money to purposes that will create jobs, especially in the hard-hit construction industry. School repairs and retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency will be a focus. And Mr. Obama is expected to argue that to the extent that states and local governments are relieved of school construction costs, they must avoid further layoffs of teachers.

So he’s not going to go through Congress anyway. He has no plans to get anything passed in the legislature, he just wants to slam Republicans while the public is watching. And notice the barely-veiled conditionality of that municipal spending: it’s not actually to offset costs, just to boost the teachers’ unions by having districts that agree to take the funds stop firing teachers.

Where is that first-class temperament when we need it?


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