Obama and the do-something Congress
President Obama has made it clear; he wants to channel Harry Truman and run for reelection against a do-nothing Congress.
Only trouble is that Congress doesn’t want to oblige, and that includes Obama’s fellow Democrats.
Take the recent vote on sanctions against Iran. The Senate passed legislation to sanction Iran’s central bank, which is the least the US can do in the face of Iranian intransigence, violence against a US ally, as when the British embassy compound in Tehran was sacked, and to punish Iran for continuing to plow full-steam ahead with development of a nuclear weapon.
It was Democratic Senator Robert Menendez who highlighted the need for the sanctions. “Given what appears to be a shortening timeline until Iran has a potential nuclear weapon, it would seem that we are not doing enough fast enough,” said Sen. Menendez (D-N.J.).
What is President Obama’s response? He’s threatening to veto the sanctions because it comes to his desk as part of a defense bill he doesn’t like. Who is the do-nothing is this scenario exactly?
Stopping Iran from getting the bomb is an especially pressing issue for American Jews and those citizens for whom Israel’s safety is of primary concern. And yet, President Obama refuses to do the right thing when it comes to Tehran, even when such a position has bipartisan support in Congress and it might even help shore up the President’s support among American Jewish voters, who are asking legitimate questions about his harsh stance toward Israel.
When it comes to jobs, Obama likes to claim that he’s working on the problem while the Congress is waiting on the sidelines. Obama’s latest fancy is energy efficiency through retrofitting older buildings. His private-public partnership plan called the Better Buildings Initiative is supposed to create tens of thousands of new jobs. “We can’t wait for Congress to act, so I’m directing all federal agencies to make at least $2 billion worth of energy efficiency upgrades over the next two years,” Obama said.
Funny, but President Obama just killed 20,000 new jobs because he opposes certain domestic energy development on ideological grounds (it isn’t wind or solar) and it makes one of his special interest groups happy (extremist environmentalists). The Keystone XL pipeline would have been a jobs boom and an energy shot in the arm, but the route was opposed by environmentalists, who were getting restless because Obama hasn’t been the ecowarrior they want. To placate this constituency, and to get celebrity “experts” like Daryl Hannah off his front lawn, Obama said the pipeline wouldn’t go forward before “further review” sometime in 2013.
Now it is some members of Congress who are pushing to have the administration do the unnecessary review in 60 days rather than waiting another year, and after the election. So far the White House has been silent and likely won’t say anything at all unless the legislation ends up on Obama’s desk.
Finally, to take an issue that is supposed to be right in President Obama’s wheelhouse, let’s look at what’s going on with immigration. This president promised voters that he’d prioritize immigration reform, he hasn’t. President Obama claims that immigration reform has to be done by the Congress and though he’d like to “do it on his own” that he’s got to wait for the supposedly deadlocked Senate and House to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
In the meantime, President Obama made the political decision to slow the deportation process to a near-complete halt because after having deported hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens (as the law demands), the White House realized it had better do something to appeal to Latino voters by changing its practices. After all, Obama isn’t used to getting booed, but that’s just what happened in March in El Paso, Texas when Obama brought up his administration’s immigration enforcement policies.
The administration announced last month that some 300,000 deportation cases would be re-reviewed by a joint panel from two separate agencies (that has to be created from scratch) making it very likely that deportations will not happen in any significant number through the next election.
Congress meanwhile is actually passing legislation on the issues it can agree on. For example, the rules for temporary skilled-labor visas were changed in recent legislation doing away with country-specific quotas. Now, if there are more applications for temporary high-skilled work permits from India, as many applicants as apply can be approved. Unfortunately, Congress didn’t do away with the limitation on the annual number of high-skilled work visas it can approve, which is what Microsoft, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and other business leaders have been asking to happen for years. But at least changing the quota system is a place where there was bipartisan support for a common-sense reform, and Congress got it done. Not much you can say that makes common sense about the Obama administration approach meanwhile.
President Obama is right to be campaigning for his own re-election, and he even has a significant advantage this time out that he didn’t have three years ago, an actual record. He might want to start making the case for why he should get four more years on that basis. The reality is that Congress isn’t do-nothing; it’s just not doing what Obama wants.
(Abby Wisse Schachter is a Pittsburgh-based political columnist who authors the New York Post’s politics blog Capitol Punishment, nypost.com/blogs/capitol. She can be reached at email@example.com.)