Belmont Club

Pivot

Ezra Klein at the Washington Post says that the debt ceiling might have to be raised before the election because the current increase may prove inadequate.  “If you hold all else equal, they say, $2.1 trillion should hold us over until May of 2013. But what if you don’t hold all else equal? … a weak economy and some extra stimulus, in other words, could push the next debt-ceiling debate ahead of the election. That isn’t very likely, but given the way the economy looks to be going, it isn’t impossible.”

The word “money” is certain to be on the President’s lips when he addresses the joint session of Congress. The only question is how much money he will ask for. NPR says that voices in the Democratic Party are urging the President to ‘Go Big’ with his jobs package.

Bill Galston, a former aide to former President Clinton, says he thinks the president needs to go even bigger and lay out a growth agenda that includes a solution to the mortgage debt crisis and a long-term vision for fundamental tax reform.

“By going big, he will do what he really hasn’t done so far in 2011, and that is plant a flag and invite the people to rally around it,” he says. “If you look at the speech that way, it really is the opening gun in the 2012 presidential campaign.”

The president would, in effect, be telling Americans what he would do if he had a second term. … Obama can only “gain,” Galston says, because he’s in such a deep hole. The number of people who view him as a strong leader has plummeted over the past two months. Galston and other Democrats think the only way out of that hole is to propose a bold plan and for it — even if it has no chance of passing Congress.

Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO agrees. “This is a time for boldness. And this is a moment that working people will judge all our leaders. Will they propose solutions that are on the scale necessary to address the job crisis that America has right now? … Trumka, who has expressed frustration with the Democratic president over economic issues, warned that union support could be hit by the weak economy. The U.S. unemployment rate has been stuck at about 9 percent for months. “If the economy is down it is going to be more difficult to educate and motivate and mobilize people,” he said.”

A time for boldness.  A long term vision for fundamental tax reform. “If you look at the speech that way, it really is the opening gun in the 2012 presidential campaign.”  Uh-huh. There are times when it seems people are talking in coded phrases.

But in this case its hard not think the translation is: ‘the President needs more money so he can get re-elected’. Ok, maybe that’s too harsh. ‘The President needs the money because if he can’t mitigate the unemployment problem he is not going to get re-elected’. In either case it comes down to money. Dinero. Now is the President going to get it? That is the 64 trillion dollar question. The New York Times says “With No New Jobs in August, White House Calls for Action”.

As President Obama prepared to deliver a major proposal to bolster job creation next week, the report added to the pressure on the administration, on Republicans who have resisted any new stimulus spending, and on the Federal Reserve, which has been divided over the wisdom of using its limited arsenal of tools to get the economy moving again.

The White House immediately seized on the report as evidence that bold action was needed, calling the unemployment rate “unacceptably high.” Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said in an interview that she hoped the president’s proposals would be embraced by Congress. “If they’re not supported, then he’s going to take it out to the public,” she said.

Wasn’t that the whole point of the mid-Western bus tour? Wasn’t that what the President implied when he told Cantor “Eric, don’t call my bluff. I’m going to the American people with this.” It’s not like he hasn’t tried taking the notion of more money out to the American people these many months. He’s been selling; the problem is that the public’s not buying.

The difficulty is that voters are beginning to fear what comes afterwards.  A notion has been slowly growing, but with increasing force that the blowback which comes after you get the check in the mail is so bad you’re going to wish you never got the check in the first place.

What does he do for an encore if after mounting the podium before the Joint Session and shaking his finger at the audience as vigorously as he can he receives a Congressional version of Jim DeMint’s lese majeste. “If he has a jobs proposal, put it in writing, give us a cost estimate, and send it over. I want to read the bill, not listen to talking points off a teleprompter.”

Jonathan Capeheart believes that Obama’s just been holding back. That so far he’s just been a nice guy; that when he really gets going  then the Republicans should watch out.

In Obama, we have a president more grounded and comfortable in his own skin than many of the people he has to work with to govern this country. He’s bigger than most of us. So the petty slights that get a lot of us riled up probably don’t register to him. He’s a thinker and plotter with his eyes on the prize down the road, not the daily hysteria taking place on the road to get there. That’s why I’m praying that when the real fight comes, the president will show Republicans — and the American people — that he’s not the pushover they believe him to be.

I think Capeheart is wrong.  DeMint is onto something. People have grown suspicious and disillusioned enough to look a gift horse in the mouth. They are no longer willing to jump at what is being offered. The President’s urgent campaigns may have awakened a mental corner in people poor enough to know that street corner salesmen who suddenly present and rapidly withdraw merchandise from inspection while trying to close the sale are probably peddling 42 jewel Rolexes and 48 carat gold rings.

If the President wants to regain his footing he has to change his tack; to put aside the big extravanganza and begin selling his program in the way an engineer might. He could do worse than “put it in writing, give us a cost estimate, and send it over”. But he won’t.

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