Pressed to assess the current state of White House relations with Capitol Hill, Chief of Staff William Daley answered: "It's going great."
Responding to CBS White House Correspondent Norah O'Donnell's question at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday, Daley provoked great laughter with that answer. “Can’t you tell?" he asked. "Things are just really great. The debt ceiling was no problem. The business community loves us and they love the rhetoric. No problem.”
More seriously, he suggested that acrimony between the two branches wasn't surprising given the difficult times facing the country and the overall coarsening of public discourse. “The difficulties in this town politically are much more reflective of what’s going on out there in America.... We have been a divided nation politically for a very long time.”
He lamented what he described as "the Republican [congressional leadership's] mantra starting in '09 ... of, basically, we’re going to take a very hard-line position of 'no' and that’s pretty much been it.” And he said he accepts some responsibility for the poor relations. “I think there is no question. I would take some responsibility for the present relationship. It’s part of my job.”
Looking ahead to the work of the super committee trying to hammer out a deficit deal, Daley said the 12-member group needs to forge more than just a narrow consensus to come up with what the White House insists must be a “balanced” package. “I think the membership are truly the leaders of Congress and if they can’t do something bold then that would be another sort of damnation of the system and that would be unfortunate,” he said. But he said “they are also finding out how difficult it is... to build a coalition.”
He said a final package needs more than just one member jumping over to the other party’s position. “There’s got to be a broader consensus,” he said.
The White House, Daley said, is increasingly worried the economy could slip into a second recession and sees President Obama’s jobs bill as a hedge against that possibility. But Daley says he still believes that a double dip can be avoided and economic growth will continue.
“We are very concerned about the possibility," he said. "But the expectation as of right now is that we will not see a double dip.... The general consensus of the experts is that we won’t have another recession.” But, he added, the White House is keeping a wary eye trained overseas because “what’s going on in Europe causes ... great concern.”
The forum, held at the Newseum, is jointly sponsored by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute.
Daley said the president keeps in close touch with European leaders and “the expectation is that they will take action” to keep the debt crisis from worsening and plunging both sides of the Atlantic into another recession. He acknowledged that earlier predictions for a strong second half to this year and robust recovery in 2012 “are not going to be fulfilled.”
He said that is one of the reasons why the president proposed his jobs bill. If the current recovery were more robust, he said, there wouldn't be so much pressure on the White House and Congress to act now to spur growth. But he cast the stakes on the current debate as very high and again demanded that Congress act on the bill “so that the expectation of some that the economy may slip backward, we’ve got some buffer to try to stop that.”
He said the jobs bill could boost gross domestic product growth by a point or 1.5 points and could add up to 1.7 million jobs. And he refused to accept the suggestion that the bill is “dead on arrival” in Congress. “Hope springs eternal,” he said, arguing that critics should propose an alternative. “The president has put a package forward. No one else has put a package forward,” Daley said. “He’s led. He’s put something on the table. Don’t just say no. Have something that is real, not just some talking points.”