McManus: Obama's offensive is sounding defensive

  • This artwork by Paul Tong relates to President Obama taking a more aggressive, more public approach with congressional Republicans over the federal debt.

President Barack Obama sounds like a man back on the offensive.

The president is reprising his core message that what the economy needs is more federal spending on popular priorities such as infrastructure and education, not less.

And his stump speeches last week in Illinois, Missouri and Florida put Republicans on notice that he will blame them if a standoff over spending results in a government shutdown or a financial crisis over the federal debt ceiling this fall.

"Repealing Obamacare and cutting spending is not an economic plan," Obama lectured his opponents. "You can't just be against something; you've got to be for something."

But is that true?

House Speaker John A. Boehner doesn't seem to think so. When asked recently about the glacial pace of legislation in the House, he responded: "We should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal."

Boehner has a point. The number of bills a Congress passes is no guarantee that it's doing important work. Roughly a third of the measures Congress passes are inconsequential actions such as renaming post offices.

But there's also a flaw in Boehner's argument. Although the current Congress is on pace to pass even fewer laws than the previous one (which set a modern record for lack of productivity), it hasn't succeeded in repealing many laws either. The GOP-led House has voted nearly 40 times to repeal all or part of Obama's health care law, for example, but hasn't succeeded in overturning the act — although it has cut its funding.

Boehner has said he has no intention of shutting down the government during budget talks this fall, a move he believes would be counterproductive.

As one of his allies, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., put it last week: "The only way Republicans will lose the House is to shut down the government or default on the debt. Shutting down the government is not in the best interests of the American people, and it makes you look politically irresponsible."

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