The Obama administration may have to learn to deal with an unfriendly Congress long before the Republicans have a chance to win control of the House in the midterm elections. Angry over the failure of the administration to slow unemployment and get real growth started in the US, Congress lashed out at Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner yesterday, with Democrats and Republicans demanding his resignation for poor oversight of the bailout funds in 2009. And the Congressional Black Caucus unexpectedly froze Barack Obama’s high priority of finance-sector reform over lost jobs:
Growing discontent over the economy and frustration with efforts to speed its recovery boiled over Thursday on Capitol Hill in a wave of criticism and outright anger directed at the Obama administration.
Episodes in both houses of Congress exposed the raw nerves of lawmakers flooded with stories of unemployment and economic hardship back home. They also underscored the stiff headwinds that the administration faces as it pushes to enact sweeping changes to the financial regulatory system while also trying to create jobs for ordinary Americans.
President Obama’s allies in the Congressional Black Caucus, exasperated by the administration’s handling of the economy, unexpectedly blocked one his top priorities, using a legislative maneuver to postpone the approval of financial reform legislation by a key House committee.
The CBC wants Obama to offer a jobs package aimed at curbing rampant unemployment among African-Americans. Obama has already announced a jobs summit and the Senate has started to turn its attention to a new jobs package — which no one wants to call a “stimulus” after the failure of Porkulus — but Maxine Waters wants something more specific to the black communities. The CBC has apparently attempted to get the attention of the White House for several weeks, but didn’t get enough of a response. Now they have decided to hold the financial-reform package hostage to make a point.
Others made the point more directly with Geithner. Republicans Kevin Brady and Michael Burgess demanded that Geithner resign, as did Democratic Rep. Peter de Fazio, who hardly represents a blue-dog district, coming from Oregon. Burgess underscored his unhappiness by telling Geithner, “I thought you should have never been hired.”
If Obama wants to free his financial-reform package, he may have to give up Geithner. In one sense, that is the role of Cabinet officials: act as lightning rods for controversy and be expendable to protect a President’s standing and agenda. Obama has not exactly been shy about throwing people under the bus when they become a liability. Geithner started off as a liability with his history of tax evasion, and has done nothing since to improve his standing.
But Congress has a problem, too. They have done little to focus on jobs in the nine months since passing the $787 billion flop of a stimulus package. They’re so afraid of making its failure obvious that they have to strategize a way to pass another stimulus package without calling it “stimulus.” This “anger” on Capitol Hill, especially by Democrats who have controlled this process, is at least in part a show for the constituents back home, who have wondered when Congress would stop looking for ways to spend money and control their lives (ie, health-care reform) and get the nation back to work.