During his press conference Obama seized the bully pulpit, and told Congress that they need to do their jobs on the debt ceiling issue.
Here is Obama’s opening statement from CBS News:
Obama described the debt ceiling deadline as, “The yellow light is flashing but it hasn’t been a red light yet. . . . By August 2, we run out of tools to make sure that all our bills are paid.” If the U.S. defaults, “the consequences for the U.S. economy will be significant and unpredictable.”
The president hinted that his two daughters have a better work ethic than Congress, “Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time. . . . They’re not pulling all nighters. They’re 13 and 10. You know, Congress can do the same thing. If you know you’ve got to do something, just do it.” Obama then contrasted his schedule with that of Congress, “I’m here. I’ve been dealing with Afghanistan, the debt crisis, Greece. I’m here. Congress is in one week, out the next.”
Obama then delivered the money quote of the press conference, “We have meetings and discussions and … [then] they decide they’re not happy with the fact that at some point you have to make a choice. They all step back and say — ‘The president needs to get this done.’ At a certain point they need to do their job.” Obama then hinted that Congress might be kept in session until they actually do their jobs.
Congress has been on a schedule where they are in session for a week and not in session for a week. The House and Senate are alternating weeks, so the full Congress is not in session at any given time.
Obama stated that the Republican tactic of walking out on negotiations because they refuse to budge an inch on their “sacred cows” is not acceptable. Obama expressed loads of frustration with Congress, but it appears that this White House has realized that they have a powerful messaging tool which they have not been fully utilizing.
Americans have embedded in their collective psyche the image of the president as a strong executive leader. Whether or not the president actually possesses the powers that they imagine him to have is not as important as the perception itself. In the modern era when a president has been faced with a congress that was partially or fully controlled by the opposition, they have found using this perception of the power of the presidency to be very fruitful when it comes to moving public opinion.
Obama smartly played into the stereotype of the lazy congressman who doesn’t do any work. By saying I’m here all the time but where are they, Obama was using a presidential tactic as old as the hills. The only thing less popular a president at any given time is Congress. What the president was doing today was tapping the American public’s dislike of Congress.
The president has the huge built in advantage of the bully pulpit. If he wanted to he could go in front of the cameras every day, and tell Congress to get back to work. President Obama’s frustration with Congress has been shared at one time or another by every president in US history. As an institution, Congress is perennially unpopular.
It is time for this president to use both his personal popularity, and their unpopularity to his advantage. As we get closer to the 2012 campaign, look for Obama to use the perks of incumbency to draw a stark contrast between himself and the GOP.
The bi-partisan niceness was gone. This president looks ready for a fight, and maybe the free ride is over for the members of the GOP’s obstructionist brigade.