Jobs, the budget and Illinois

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said job creation is his No. 1 issue for the year. Healthcare reform, his top priority in 2009, is now on the shelf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Several Democrats, including Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.), have said the effort to overhaul the nation’s health system is on life support.

Obama and congressional Democrats are not throwing in the towel. But getting a bill passed this year looks less likely every day.

More and more Democrats, most recently Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), are saying the White House should have spent more time on the economy last year.

These lawmakers are no doubt pleased with Obama’s pivot toward jobs.

Friday’s news that the economy grew at the fastest clip in six years was the best news Democrats have heard in the last several weeks. The key now will be to make sure that jobs data improve in coming months.

The House passed its jobs bill in December. The Senate is ironing out its package this week. There is no time to waste.

Most economists believe there is little chance that the unemployment rate will be lower than 9 percent come November. If it stays at 10 percent, Democrats are in trouble.

But if employers start hiring more people than they are laying off, Democrats will tout progress and likely retain control of Congress.

The budget debate will be fascinating. Obama wants to freeze non-defense spending. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants defense included in the belt-tightening.

When Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a huge proponent of earmarks, first heard Obama’s proposal to freeze discretionary spending, he smiled and leaned back in his chair, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and said: “Well, he can call for it, but we’re the guys who make the decision. I always remind them of that.”

“Them” refers to presidents. And Murtha’s comment is a clear indicator that Obama faces an uphill climb in getting what he wants.

On Tuesday, Illinois holds its primaries. Rep. Mark Kirk is the heavy favorite to win the GOP primary. The Democratic primary has been a fierce three-way contest, and some people on the left are very concerned that the intra-party battle has helped Kirk in his quest to win Obama’s old Senate seat.


Player of the Week: Attorney General Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder is in a difficult spot.

In November, he strongly defended his decision to hold the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other accused terrorists in New York City.

ADVERTISEMENT
He told Senate Judiciary Committee lawmakers, “We should not cower in the face of this enemy. Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm and our people are ready.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Intelligence Committee, said then that she “fully” supported Holder’s decision.

Last week, however, Feinstein changed her mind. After receiving classified intelligence briefings, she said she believes the terror trials should not occur in New York.

The Californian added that the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day has changed the situation.

Empire State politicians who want the administration to think again include Gov. David Paterson (D) and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I). Sens. Charles Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) are also open to alternative sites.

Obama administration officials have privately said the trial will not be in New York, but publicly, they hew to the line that no final decisions have been made.

If Holder moves forward with the New York trial, he will trigger a backlash from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. If he does an about-face, he will need to make a convincing argument about why he changed his mind.

Many politicians and policymakers are afraid to reverse themselves publicly.

On most occasions, however, the politically awkward second thought is usually a good idea.

Feinstein, for example, has probably seen intelligence information that suggests holding terror trials in New York City would be dangerous.

“There’s nothing wrong with making a change,” Feinstein said on Thursday.

Holder will soon have to make his intentions known. And it’s a good bet that he will follow Feinstein’s lead.

More in Senate

Incoming Senate majority leader: Jobs, Keystone and regulations top agenda

Read more »