The President tried to signal a strong focus on jobs with his speech to a joint session of Congress yesterday. In it, he bluntly asked Congress to pass his American Jobs Act. He outlined several center-leaning ideas in his speech that Republicans have supported in the past. See description of the bill: The American Jobs Act
Political Aims: A Clintonian Strategy
With the American Jobs Act, the President hopes to repeat the strategy of President Bill Clinton after the 1994 Republican takeover of the House:
(1) Take the center ground, making the opposition appear extreme if it doesn't give his ideas a fair hearing. Solidify his position with centrist swing voters and have a legislative work product to campaign on.
(2) Acknowledge and use proposals from the other side, making it harder for the opposition to obstruct legislation for partisan purposes
(3) Split the other camp, isolating the moderates from the extremists.
Is It A Win-Win?
The President has a good chance of succeeding with this strategy. Most Americans want to get behind a jobs package that appears centrist. The President's proposals are the only proposals on the table at the moment. If the bill passes, the President has a significant legislative victory relating to jobs under his belt. If Republicans knock it down, the President can make a campaign against Congress in the election.
What About The Senate?
An earlier version of this post operated under the assumption that most of the action would be in the House. However, the bill has moved first in the Senate instead. With the ratio of Democrats and Republicans, there was simply no way that the bill was going to get the margin for cloture (60 votes). This clearly suggests that the President and Democrats are trying to draw Republicans out and dare them to block the bill in its earliest stages so that Democrats can rally around it.
What Can The Republicans Do?
(1) Use the House to bring an alternative package up for consideration.
This would blunt any arguments that the Republicans are simply the "party of no" and put Republican job creation proposals squarely against the American Job Act.
(2) Fundamentally change the character of the bill through the amendment process.
Republicans may hope to use the House to add proposals to the bill that will make it unacceptable to Democrats or force the President to veto his own bill. Politico reports that House Republicans have sent a letter to President Obama suggesting that each part of the bill be subject to scrutiny on its own. This means that Republicans understand that they will suffer if they don't appear to give the President's bill a fair hearing, but that they can use the procedures of the House to muddle the issue significantly. In this case the House will want to actually pass a version of the bill and work with Senate Republicans.
(3) Simply reject the bill in the House of Representatives.
This is the least likely outcome because it gives the President and the Democrats the upper hand and allows them to campaign on the bill.
(1) The American Jobs Act has a moderate chance of passage - despite the divided Congress, whether it's a dead letter depends on forthcoming political maneuvers outlined above.
(2)If the President is serious about passage, it is absolutely crucial that he split off a group of moderate Republicans.
(3) The best Republican strategies are to split up the bill and debate each portion, pass the bill with unacceptable alterations (forcing a Presidential veto or Congressional deadlock), or both.
(4) The Democrats must move quickly, have the bill considered in its entirety, and be willing to allow opposition amendments made in good faith. Democrats need to do everything in their power to prevent the bill from getting so defaced that the President could contemplate a veto. If the bill dies, Democrats will want to make it clear that they did everything in their power to pass a clean bill in good faith.