As President Obama heads to North Carolina to unveil a new jobs program, Republicans are gearing up to attack the slow economic recovery from now until the elections in November. Perhaps we shouldn't expect broad bipartisanship on the job creation front.
In a meeting with his caucus on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner unveiled polling that had good news for his party: for the first time, Americans consider the sluggish economy to be Obama's fault, not George W. Bush's. The Hill reports that the party's pollster found that at the end of 2012:
53 percent of voters said “policies of the past” were causing the nation’s economic problems, while 44 percent blamed policies “of the present.” Polling in November 2013 found those numbers largely reversed; 41 percent blame the policies of the past, while 49 percent blame current policies.
("Policies of the past" is Boehner-speak for "Bush.") And since Obama can't blame Bush, he, according to Beohner, has "chosen to talk about rising income inequality, unemployment, and the need to extend emergency unemployment benefits." None of which has to do with improving the economy, apparently.
So Republicans plan to talk about what Rep. Tim Huelskamp evocatively dubbed the "Obummer economy" (with hashtag, of course). "Republicans believe they can exploit the underlying weakness of the job market," The Hill says, "and argue voters should expect a better economic recovery than they are seeing under President Obama’s watch." They plan to make that case, "coupled with repeated attacks on the healthcare law" (which The Hill calls "Obama-Care") to wear down support for Democratic incumbents.
Remember Obamacare? Seems like only last week that Obamacare was going to be the ticket to electoral victory for Republicans. Because, you know, it was. Five days ago, Slate's Dave Weigel wrote about the planned focus on Obamacare, using the example of North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan. "Public Policy Polling, the North Carolina-based firm that Republicans typically accuse of liberal bias," Weigel wrote, "found a 10-point surge in Hagan’s negative numbers since the rollout of healthcare.gov. So the GOP decided: Why fight about unemployment insurance when you can remind voters that Obamacare exists, and Hagan voted for it?"
To be fair, a party's campaign strategy is tempered by location and polling. But there's no question that Obamacare, once considered a sure-fire winner for the party in 2014 — however premature that consideration — has been diminished, primarily because the system itself is working. More than 2.1 million people enrolled for plans by the end of last month, with another 1.5 million enrolling in Medicaid. It's harder to argue that Obamacare is hurting North Carolina when more than 100,000 people in North Carolina now participate in the program.
Obama's making a push to blunt the Republican argument on jobs, too. (Not that employing more people pays no dividends besides in November.) He'll travel to North Carolina on Wednesday to unveil a new manufacturing institute that he announced during last year's State of the Union address. The New York Times reports that the facility in North Carolina is the first of three such facilities, funded by the Department of Energy. And it notes one reason that Obama hasn't had more success in creating new jobs: Republican opposition.
Congress has stymied more ambitious proposals that would require legislation. In his State of the Union address last February, the president announced a $1 billion plan, modeled on one in Germany, to create a network of 15 institutes that would develop new industries. …
But setting up 15 institutes would require congressional authorization. So last year, Mr. Obama narrowed his focus to three institutes that could be established using existing funds and executive authority.
That opposition is why Obama is focusing, as Boehner notes, on inequality and extending unemployment insurance. According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, extending benefits for the long-term unemployed could prevent 310,000 jobs from being lost, as people have more money to spend in the economy. But on Tuesday, Senate Republicans successfully filibustered a three-month benefits extension for the 1.3 million people that lost them in December.
Why would Republicans vote for it? Why help bolster the economy before November? Why authorize government spending? All that stuff can wait until 2015.