Obama’s Occupy GOP Campaign

The president combines populist politics with historic maneuvers to defeat his foes

So another part of his strategy will come from the playbook of another U.S. president: Harry S. Truman. “Give ‘Em Hell” Harry managed to gain re-election in 1948 by running against a Republican Congress considered one of the most inept—that is, until now. So Obama must position himself against his version of a “do-nothing” Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders have gave him a huge assist early on by spelling out their “Stop Obama” mandate, and then adopting a “Party of No” legislative approach over the past three years.  As a result, Congress has received a 9% approval rating, the worst in history and, in fact, four times lower than that of the Internal Revenue Service.

Obama is applying the heat. Since blockage of his comprehensive job package, the White House has initiated the “We Can’t Wait” campaign in which the president has spent the last two months tirelessly barnstorming the nation encouraging citizens to pressure their representatives to enact “bite-size” pieces of the measure. Not satisfied with waiting for congressional action, he has implemented a series of executive orders that promise to enable 1.6 million college students to repay federal loans, 1 million homeowners to meet mortgage payments and thousands of veterans to find jobs. Moreover, he seeks to use the recent failure of the congressional “super committee” last month to forge a deficit reduction deal—now painful automatic budget cuts will take place in 2013 as part of the debt-ceiling debate compromise—to once again demonstrate the GOP’s unwillingness to take a “balanced” budget-cutting approach as well as tax the rich.

The thrust of Osawatomie speech was to press the wealthiest Americans who currently pay “the lowest taxes in over half a century” to fork over a larger share of such obligations.  Obama also stood firm on the payroll tax cut due to expire by year’s end. He has proposed a one-year extension and expansion of the tax holiday on the employee share of the payroll tax, cutting it to 3.1% from the 2011 rate of 4.2%. He also seeks to a reduction for the employer share to 3.1% from 6.2% on the first $5 million of payroll in 2012.  And those companies that grew payrolls up to $50 million in a year by hiring new workers or raising salaries of existing employees would receive a complete tax holiday.

Once again, the Obama White House is at odds with GOP members over—you guessed it—tax increases. Senate Republicans rejected a Dem proposal to include a new tax on income over $1 million to help finance the extension even though one of their own—moderate Susan Collins of Maine—voted for an initial version of the plan last week. At the same time, most of the Senate’s GOP minority opposed the party’s own plan to freeze government pay and other steps to offset the cost.  House Republican leaders are trying to cut a deal within their caucus to gain support from Tea Party members who want to throw out the entire proposal while others have discussed using the extension as leverage to tack on unrelated measures they want but the president clearly stated this week he would reject such maneuvers.

Bottom line: Failure to pass the extension and expansion would mean less in Americans’ pocketbooks next year—$1,550 for a household earning $50,000 a year—and serve to hamper  consumer spending which, in turn, could cripple an already tepid recovery. So Obama plans to keep the pressure on. In fact, the White House unveiled its version of a doomsday clock on its website, counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the December 31 deadline before taxes will  increase for roughly 160 million Americans if Congress fails to act.

Obama will also have to continue to clash with GOP over nominations as he enters the last year of the first term of his presidency. Latest development has been the push to derail the installation of Obama’s candidate to help correct the economic inequality that Occupy Wall Street forces are protesting. Politico reported today Senate Republicans have blocked the president’s nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The vote of 53-45—with one senator voting “present”—fell short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

The key to victory for components of the jobs measure, payroll tax cut extension  – and his re-election – will be to negotiate with the GOP from a position of strength. That will mean standing firm in the arena, ready to strike the next blow.

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