On Friday, responding to the deeply discouraging jobs report, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shouted to reporters, "Why don`t they pick up the bills and pass them and help the American people, instead of playing politics over there?"
"They," in this context, was in reference to senators who've largely ignored small and ineffectual policies approved by the House intended to create jobs. As it turns out, however, President Obama could have repeated the exact same words Boehner used in response to the same news.
Indeed, in his weekly address, Obama reminded the political world of an economic package -- the American Jobs Act -- that he presented in September, but which Congress regrettably chose to ignore.
"[M]y message to Congress is, get to work. Right now, Congress should pass a bill to help states prevent more layoffs, so we can put thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers back on the job. Congress should have passed a bill a long time ago to put thousands of construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our runways. Instead of just talking a good game about job creators, Congress should give small business owners a tax break for hiring more workers and paying them higher wages. Let's get that done."
One of the ironies of the GOP message on Friday was the widespread assumption that the White House's "policies" were to blame for the struggling job market. That might have made more sense if, for example, Obama's jobs agenda had been approved but failed to produce.
But it's tougher to blame poor results on policies that weren't tried -- or at least, it should be much tougher.
Is it too late for Congress to act? Actually, no. Independent analysis projected the American Jobs Act, which was fully paid for, could create as many as 2 million jobs in 2012. With the year nearly half over, that's no longer possible, but if the jobs package were approved immediately, we would see a sharp economic improvement fairly quickly.
But therein lies the point: Congress isn't going to "get to work." Republicans don't want to.
Bill Maher joked over the weekend on Twitter, "Is it treason to purposefully block any help for the economy so voters blame the president and turn to the other party? Just asking."
While the "t" word is obviously hyperbolic, there is an underlying point here about the economic debate. In September, Obama presented a credible, serious plan to boost job creation; his policies were popular with the public and the kind of measures that have traditionally enjoyed support from both parties; the agenda was fully paid for; and the president made clear that his plan was sorely needed.
When Republicans killed the Americans Jobs Act, they effectively lost the right to blame Obama for the struggling job market. He produced a plan to improve matters; they didn't produce a plan and they killed the policies that would have helped. With the benefit of hindsight, we know the president was right and the congressional GOP was wrong.
The Republican line of late has been, "Things would be better if we were doing things our way." What they don't seem to realize is that, as Paul Krugman explained yesterday, we already are trying things their way, and no one seems to like the results.
What should be done about the economy? Republicans claim to have the answer: slash spending and cut taxes. What they hope voters won't notice is that that's precisely the policy we've been following the past couple of years. Never mind the Democrat in the White House; for all practical purposes, this is already the economic policy of Republican dreams.
So the Republican electoral strategy is, in effect, a gigantic con game: it depends on convincing voters that the bad economy is the result of big-spending policies that President Obama hasn't followed (in large part because the G.O.P. wouldn't let him), and that our woes can be cured by pursuing more of the same policies that have already failed.