The White House has struggled to find a sequel to its victory on the payroll tax cut but hasn’t yet settled on a single legislative priority.
Instead, there has been a scattershot approach.
At his first full press conference of the year a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama gave Congress three immediate tasks: pass the “Buffett Rule” requiring millionaires to pay at least as high a tax rate as the middle class, pass a bill shifting tax breaks away from companies that send jobs overseas to companies that bring them home, and pass a mortgage refinancing bill.
None of them are headed to his desk, and the White House almost immediately switched to other initiatives, including a stalled push to eliminate $4 billion a year in tax breaks for oil companies and a highway package wending its way through Congress. Technically, the White House also is still pushing for the rest of Obama’s “American Jobs Act” from last year.
But in the past few weeks, the White House has focused on buffing the president’s record on energy, though that’s largely a defensive action in the wake of soaring gas prices and the GOP’s relentless push for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Aside from the oil company tax bill, which the White House is coordinating with Senate Democrats, the president hasn’t been pushing for a big new energy package.
The highway reauthorization has gotten some administration attention, including an appearance on the Hill by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood with Democrats last week and statements from Obama, but it hasn’t gotten the daily blitz Obama used successfully on the payroll tax.
Several Senate Democrats say they’d like to see the president attack House Republicans daily on the highway bill, believing it might be his best bet for scoring a meaningful victory on jobs before the election.
“That’s what I would do, I’d take this transportation bill and pound it in, because it’s such a large number of job opportunities and everybody understands it,” Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said. “When you’re talking about roads, transit, bridges — people, they get that. They understand that’s real stuff.”
Begich said the looming Saturday deadline for expiration of the transportation bill as the spring construction season gears up raises the urgency for action. “When you start getting to June or July [before] you finally get Congress’ approval, you’re in trouble,” he said.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) said Obama’s agenda now is more a “constellation” of smaller issues, but she said the transportation bill would have a meaningful effect, and she’d like to see him push it harder.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.