All Sides Think They're Losing the Jobs Debate

Here's something that might cheer up fatalistic liberals who think all the blame for inaction on jobs will fall on the president: conservatives fear Obama's tax-the-rich message is working.

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Here's something that might cheer up fatalistic liberals who think all the blame for inaction on jobs will fall on the president: conservatives fear Obama's tax-the-rich message is working. Thursday night, by a vote of 50-50, Republicans blocked a piece of Obama's jobs bill that would have given $35 billion to state and local governments to fund the salaries of teachers, cops, and firefighters, paid for by a 0.5 percent surtax on people making more than $1 million a year, The New York TimesRobert Pear reports. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, to cite one of many despairing liberals, writes that, "Senate Republicans are determined to block pretty much every single popular provision in Obama's jobs bill," and that all Democrats can do is say Republicans refuse to help the economy. But, Sargent worries, the media isn't sufficiently emphasizing the idea of Republicans' just-say-no strategy. Karl Rove's American Crossroads, on the other hand, seems to think the media is doing too good a job of delivering that message. Talking Points Memo's Benjy Sarlin points to a memo by Steven Law, the group's director, saying, "It may be the result of larger environmental conditions, or he may be moving the needle himself, but Obama's 'tax the rich' mantra is getting traction ... Our poll found that 64% favor raising taxes on people with incomes above $200,000."

New York's Jonathan Chait says the jobs debate is a fight between idealists -- who think if Obama presents a reasonable plan and sells it well, Congress will be forced to comply -- and fatalists, who think Republicans have everything to gain and nothing to lose from opposition to every single one of Obama's proposals. Obama has been diligently following the idealists' playbook, Chait writes, but "fatalists are, unfortunately, winning the argument." Chait explains that Republicans from conservative states have no problem opposing Obama's bill, and Republican moderates can use a procedural excuse as cover. Then they can count on Democrats from red states -- who must show their independence from Obama at every turn -- to make opposition to the plan look bipartisan. "If the GOP can block Obama's plan, and voters respond by blaming Obama for this, what possible reason do they have for giving in? Supporting Obama’s plan would, for the Republicans, be an act of monumental political stupidity," Chait concludes.
How this played out Thursday is evident in Karl Rove's essay about the bill for Fox News. Rove writes, "After bipartisan Senate opposition stymied President Obama's latest $447 billion attempt to jump-start the economy, he could have led serious negotiations with congressional Republicans and Democrats over measures for job creation. Instead he hit the campaign trail ... This angry, partisan approach hasn't worked well this year and may have helped deepen the decline in the president's approval ratings." Rove pointed to Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor and Jon Tester, of Arkansas and Montana, as being skeptical of the bill, though Tester voted for it. (Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted against.) Rove suggests the real motive for the $35 billion package was not to get people hired, but to payback public worker unions.
Still, Republicans aren't entirely sure they've got this in the bag. After the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "The American people want us to do something about the jobs crisis," Bloomberg's Brian Faler reports. It's as though McConnell's constituents had actually done what Obama urged them to do and called the senator to rail against a "do-nothing Congress." McConnell said Republicans would rather do something without raising taxes on businesses. And the American Crossroads memo shows more concern. "The public is open to being convinced by either side on the best way to revitalize our economy; therefore, proponents of real private sector growth and fiscal responsibility need to challenge Obama’s plan in detail -- or risk losing what is likely to be a prolonged debate on this issue," Law writes. He notes that in the group's poll, "70% of respondents initially favor Obama’s proposal to 'give billions to states to stop layoffs of teachers and firefighters.' But when the same idea is described as 'giv[ing] billions to states to keep government union workers on the payroll,' 52% turn against the idea." Which sounds a lot like what Rove wrote for Fox News:
"While some communities may face police and fire layoffs, there is no evidence of a massive wave of firings of first responders. Could this $35 billion be a payoff to state and local public-employee unions? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed to imply this was the case with his curious statement Tuesday that 'It's very clear that private sector jobs have been doing just fine.'" 
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