Fresh off a win against U.S. House Republicans on extending the payroll tax benefit, President Barack Obama has found a new tactic toward possible re-election this year: bashing an unpopular Congress.
A recent CBS News poll showed Obama’s approval rate at 41 percent, as low as it has been. But Congress is receiving only 11 percent support from Americans, two percentage points above an all-time low, according to the poll.
Obama is evoking the ghosts of President Harry S. Truman, who coined the phrase “Do-Nothing Congress.” Obama even mentioned Truman in a recent speech in Detroit.
Obama has been battling with U.S. House Republicans on almost every issue over the past year, from raising the national debt ceiling to passing the 2011 federal spending measure, a move that almost resulted in a government shutdown.
Any hostile move against Congress threatens Obama’s legislative agenda, in addition to possibly making it difficult for incumbent Democrats who will have to run again at the end of the year.
Louisiana House Republicans welcome the battle. But U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, acknowledges that Obama gained the upper hand in the recent payroll tax battle, in which House Republicans backed down on their call for a one-year extension.
“The truth is we can do everything we can and push the envelope, we give him points,” Fleming said. “We can only push it so far, then it starts to work against us.”
The only end to government gridlock is if Republicans, who have control of the U.S. House, can take back the U.S. Senate and White House, Fleming said.
Republicans are feeling the sting of a public disgusted with their government, Fleming said.
“They’re angry at Republicans for not stopping it,” Fleming said of Obama initiatives. “The anger at Republicans comes out of frustration.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, has been one of Obama’s most vocal critics in the House, often taking the floor to attack Obama on everything from economic policies to domestic energy.
“The people want a strong leader and not a finger-pointer-in-chief,” Scalise said.
Obama’s criticism of Congress is political more than substantive, said U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette.
“This is a president who is very good at campaigning and that’s all he’s been doing rather than governing,” Boustany said.
Even legislators with Obama’s own party have grown a little tired of his deriding Congress. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., hastaken exception with Obama’s criticism.
“It’s a point of great contention with the Democrats in Congress that feel like we’re doing an awful lot to support his agenda,” Landrieu told the Capitol Hill newspaper Politico last year. “And it’s very discourag, disheartening and it’s really not fair. He may just want to keep that up, but it doesn’t help his relations with the Democratic members of Congress at all.”
In the battles with Obama, he should target Senate Democrats, who control that chamber, Boustany said.
“If he wants to point the finger at Congress, he can point it at the U.S. Senate, which hadn’t passed a budget in three years,” Boustany said.
Louisiana incumbent House Republicans don’t feel that the Obama move will affect them in a state in which he lost to U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by 19 percentage points.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, isn’t worried about any Obama backlash.
“I really can’t help what the president does,” Cassidy said. “All we can do is to continue to work on jobs for the American people.”
Gerard Shields is chief of @aol.com.
The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email adress is: GerardShields