The war of words between Republicans and Democrats on jobs and the economy is doing a lot to provide fodder for the presidential campaign next year, but little to advance any legislation in Congress. Given the gridlock illustrated by last week’s second Senate vote in which Republicans rejected President Obama’s jobs proposals, it should not be surprising that figures from both parties went after one another with a vengeance on the Sunday talk shows.
“This is not your normal Republican party,” Vice President Joe Biden said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Biden has become a full-time emissary for President Obama’s campaign about creating jobs, taking to the road to tout various pieces of Obama’s jobs plan. “Here’s what we’re for and here’s what they’re getting in the way of us being able to do,” he said.
“The president is trying to convince people that somebody, anybody else, is responsible” for the weak economy, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the same program. “These bills are designed on purpose not to pass. The president is deliberately trying to create an issue here.”
McConnell ranks high among Republican leaders who have managed to thwart Obama’s initiatives. He is an expert at arcane Senate parliamentary tactics, and he is known for keeping his own party in line on positions opposing Democrats. The maneuvers have made McConnell more powerful than Democrats think he should be, given that he doesn’t control the Senate agenda.
The fundamental disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on the economy lies in the role of government in fixing it. Democrats think the government should step in and help, adding police officers to the streets, hiring teachers, and spending money to fix highways. Republicans think government should get out of the way.
Biden likened the Democrats’ position to a response after homes are destroyed in a flood. “We think we should go in and help people rebuild their homes,” he said.
“The question is whether the federal government can afford to be bailing out states,” McConnell retorted.
At loggerheads legislatively about how to move the economy forward, the White House and Senate Democrats are taking Republicans on in the court of public opinion. For the rest of the year, Senate leaders will be forcing votes on individual portions of Obama’s jobs plan—everything from teachers and first responders (last week) to infrastructure (next week) to unemployment (next month).
The purpose, according to Biden, is to illustrate the stark contrasts between Obama and his Republican opponent. McConnell accused the White House of being ashamed of working with Republicans, citing the limited publicity around the recent completion of a trio of free trade agreements. (The agreements didn't escape the attention of Wall Street and were considered a huge victory for business by both Republicans and Democrats.)
It’s a well orchestrated campaign on both sides, which makes it ironic that the sound bites coming from both Biden and McConnell reflect the most banal truths about elections generally.
“At the end of the day, they’re going to have to decide, and they will decide whether we’re on the right path and whether the other team is on a better path,” Biden said.
“He’s the president. This election will be a referendum on his performance,” McConnell said.