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Eugene Robinson: Obama turns up the heat with his jobs bill


Don’t fall for it. There is no “new tone” coming from the Republican-controlled House. It’s just a remix of the same old song.

So begins Eugene Robinson's Washington Post column this morning.

As we have come to expect from the Pulitzer Prize winner, it is a very good column, with acute analysis of the situation, and some pointed words at his chosen target, the Republicans both in Congress and those seeking to oust Obama.

He describes the partisan differences on the faces in the Capitol during the address last week,with the Democrats smiling and the Republicans "winced as if suffering indigestion."

He notes even some conservative economists are noting the need for some level of stimulus and reminds us that the Congressional Budget Office has said the 2009 stimulus saved or created up to 3.6 million jobs, enough to make a difference of 2% in the unemployment rate - too bad Wolf Blitzer did not trot out that figure last night in response to the absurd assertion that the stimulus created NO jobs.

There are several paragraphs that cut to the heart of the current situation. Let me offer them below the fold.


Robinson notes the seemingly conciliatory language from Hill Republicans, but then deconstructs and dismisses it:

The Republican Party clearly has three priorities that outrank job creation: defeating President Obama, cutting taxes and reducing the size of government. The party’s “desire . . . to find common ground” is nonexistent, as shown by its refusal during the debt-ceiling fight to accept a deal offering $3 in spending cuts for every $1 of new revenue. GOP presidential candidates, who will be setting the party’s political tone, have pledged to reject even a 10-to-1 deal.

Robinson also compliments Obama for going into the district of Eric Cantor, at the University of Richmond (which is not in the city, but in its heavily Republican suburbs - and as a side note, the President is Civil War historian Ed Ayers, formerly chancellor of UVa and as someone originally from Eastern Tennessee very much in tune with a message of meeting the needs of ordinary Americans). He noted the President's continued usage of "Pass this bill" that we heard in the speech. Then he reminds us that

The GOP’s next move is entirely predictable: Chop the American Jobs Act into little pieces, revise the parts they like to make them more consistent with ultra-conservative values, pass those elements and reject the rest as not being “common ground.” We’ve seen this movie before.

Progressives and active Democrats who listened to the address to Congress heard the President, but many wondered if when push came to shove he would insist that the bill as proposed already contained compromise and would push for its passage without change, or whether he would cave to the Republicans simply to get something passed, which might mean the tax cuts but not the spending for school reconstruction and teacher jobs, for example. Robinson says a "senior White House official" has said that the President will continue to push for "the whole enchilada" as he continue his push for passage with visits to North Carolina and Ohio. Robinson then concludes by writing

Might it be pure coincidence that that Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina happen to be “purple” states Obama won in 2008 and hopes to capture again next year?

Of course not. After all, another way to describe a swing state is “common ground.”

Last night there was a conference call with VP Joe Biden and the presidents of the two teachers unions, Dennis Van Roekel of the NEA and Randi Weingarten of the AFT. There were perhaps several thousand educators on the call. I cannot describe the contents since it was closed to the press and I was on it in my capacity as a teacher activist and not as a blogger. I note the outreach for it was extensive, having been passed an email invite and then just as the conference call was about to start receiving a robocall also inviting me to it. I can say this much - those on the line heard a detailed explanation of provisions of the bill that will be submitted and were given a sense of the administration's commitment to education at least as far as teacher jobs and school buildings, and both union presidents were supportive.

As a teacher I was appreciative of the administrative's commitment last year to teacher jobs, although I acknowledge I was unhappy at what it was willing to give away to achieve that. I am similarly pleased by the commitments to education in the speech, as well as those to veterans. I am concerned about the implications of the payroll tax holiday over the long term.

Much more immediate is the concern whether the administration will stick to its guns and hold Republican feet to the fire by continuing to insist on "the whole enchilada." I have heard similar rhetoric as far back as the primary campaign, and the disappointments that seemed to follow once the President assumed office remain a bitter taste in my mouth.

I can hope that this time will be different. It has to be, and not just because the political future of the administration and control of the Congress remains very much in the balance. It is also because the spending provisions of the proposal are very much important for the future of the economy and the nation, both short term and for the long term learning of our current students. There is also the obligation we have to those who have served in the ongoing conflicts we inherited from the last administration. I think of one former student who already has 5 tours in Iraq as a member of the National Guard, and how that has interfered with his ability to get on with his life economically and personally. We owe him and all the others, and this bill is a welcome addition to the paying of that debt, an addition to some of what we have already seen in the Veterans Administration under General Shinsecki.

Robinson's column is perceptive. It is also hopeful. It accurately describes the current political landscape on the issues - Congressional approval at a dismal 13%.

But that does not mean the Republicans are prepared to accept reality. After all, last night Jon Huntsman, in some ways the most sensible of the Republicans running to oppose Obama, doubled down on the Ryan plan on Medicare, even as polling data when the plan was announced showed an overwhelming public rejection of it, as clearly was demonstrated by the election of Kathy Hochul in a Republican district.

Robinson's analysis of things is usually fairly accurate. I agree with his analysis of the lay of the land. Like him, I hope that the President keeps the pressure on the Republicans.

After all, we can hope for what is best for the country, can we not?


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Kenneth J. Bernstein

Kenneth J. Bernstein is now proudly 64 years young, teacher in DC metro area, Quaker liberal - and still passionate about learning with his students (http://teach...