If Democrats are looking forward to any electoral progress in 2012, they will most likely have success around the one issue affecting most: the economy.
At the top of the political food chain is President Obama, only 13 months away from folks deciding whether or not he will serve a second term. Obama, along with several senators and the entire House of Representatives, will face voters upset about the lack of economic progress.
At the center of the latest fight is President Obama’s $447 billion American Jobs Act, a plan to put key groups of Americans back to work. Republicans do not like the president’s vision because they feel that less government and lower taxes will allow the private sector to develop the necessary jobs. Democrats, on the other hand, argue that lower and middle-class families have already bore a tough burden from the Great Recession and need more help.
When the president introduced the legislation, he immediately highlighted how he planned to pay for it through further cuts in the deficit recommended by the Joint Congressional Committee. He hoped this would be the carrot needed to win at least some Republican support.
The move was met with a solid and predictable ‘no’ from conservatives.
Democrats may have found their footing, however, with the recent vote in the U.S. Senate over AJA. The bill hit an immediate snag when Republicans essentially filibustered any possible debate about its details.
Making heavy use of the bully pulpit, President Obama immediately flipped the setback against Republicans.
“Too many families are struggling just to get by,” President Obama said in a Washington, D.C. speech the day after the vote.
“Apparently none of this matters to Republicans in the Senate because [even] though a majority of senators voted in favor of it, the Republican minority got together and blocked this bill,” he abruptly added.
The move by conservatives handed Democrats the leverage they need on the campaign trail over the next year. While the bill is still being pursued in Washington, D.C., lawmakers now have a full record showing Republicans unwilling to consider economic ideas outside their own. That is a powerful message that could resonate with unemployed, under-employed, and other displaced workers across the country.
The nation’s unemployment figures will not let lawmakers off the hook either. As of September, the nation’s jobless figures remained at a stubborn 9.1 percent. Numbers highlighting individual states or ethnicities have been, at times, much higher.
One would think that Republican inaction on government programs to help the dispossessed would have made attack dogs out of Democrats. Instead, the opposite has been true.
Since President Obama took office in 2009, his party has been slow or unwilling to play hardball with the GOP. They lost control of the House of Representatives in 2010 to Republicans who campaigned on a need for conservative change and as a rebuke against policies supported by the president and his party.
As a result, Democrats have spent the past nine months watching Republicans impede many pieces of pro-president legislation. The reality is that both Senate and White House are still in Democratic hands, effectively throwing water on the GOP “strategy” – so neither side has emerged victorious.
Who can make the economic magic happen?
Observers have noticed the president changing his usually conciliatory stance toward the GOP even before the recent Senate filibuster. He kicked off his push for the AJA with a fiery prime time speech to a joint session of Congress in September. Days later, he delivered the full bill to the Senate and posted it online for the general public. Since he unveiled it, the president has used visits to places like North Carolina and Ohio to push for its passage.
Now the president and his party will have to tow the line between finding economic solutions and taking advantage of a political situation. Both can be done, but Americans will want to see tangible outcomes. In the face of relentless and sometimes confusing attacks from Republicans, Democrats will need the spine they have lacked and speak for the voters they have forgotten.
The question now is whether the Democratic Party will aggressively rise to the challenge or face defeat at the hands of economically-challenged voters.