With Obama Jobs Bill Vote, Democrats Seek to Prove Congressional Dysfunction

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Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

President Barack Obama attends a meeting of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Oct. 11, 2011.

The Senate Tuesday night is expected to vote down President Obama’s jobs bill. Democrats aren’t even sure they can get 51 votes, let alone the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. And even if it passed, Republican House Speaker John Boehner has declared it dead on arrival in the lower chamber. So, what’s the point of this political theater?

Simple: the presidential campaign is already roaring to life–we’re on GOP debate No. 147 tonight, in case anyone missed the first 146–and the President needs to prove it’s not his fault that Washington isn’t doing more to create jobs. “There is no Republican alternative that would create jobs now,” David Axelrod, a senior strategist for the Obama campaign wrote in a Tuesday memo that cited poll numbers showing Obama’s plan’s popularity. “The American people have rallied around Obama’s call to pass this plan. After 3 weeks of advocacy by the President, support (for the jobs bill) has grown by nearly 10%.”

Hours before the vote, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina sent a note to supporters urging them to call Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and demand he “not let politics get in the way of creating jobs.” “Call Sen. McConnell’s office,” Messina wrote. “Tell him you’re watching, and you expect Republicans in the Senate to do the right thing and move forward on this bill today.”

Senate Republicans were less than impressed, calling the bill–and Messina’s e-mail–nothing more than campaign posturing. Republicans point to  at least 10 Democratic Senators who’ve said in statements that there are parts of the plan that they don’t support and therefore have reservations voting for it. “It was designed to fail from the start,” says a senior GOP Senate aide. “This is [Harry] Truman running against Congress in 1948.”

Truman, who coined the term “Do-Nothing Congress,” started his bid for re-election deeply unpopular, having lost both chambers of Congress in the 1946 midterms. But he ran an effective, if vicious, campaign against a recalcitrant Congress that won him a second term, not to mention Democratic majorities in both houses, in the closest race in history.

Obama last week said at his press conference: “If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a do-nothing Congress. If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them; I think the American people will run them out of town, because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big and something bold.” Of course, there is one important difference between 1948 and 2011: This time, Democrats control the Senate.

Democrats argue that their 53-seat majority is useless if they can’t convince at least seven Republicans to vote with them to overcome filibuster threats. To prove this point after Tuesday’s failed vote, the Senate is expected to break up the bill and hold a series of doomed votes on its pieces. Democrats believe this could be electoral gold for them, so brace yourselves for an autumn full of showmanship and many, many votes. As if we didn’t already have enough proof of Congress’s utter dysfunction.