Republicans blaming the Obama administration for this horrendous recession is like an arsonist blaming the fire department - and yet, there's a certain usefulness to their attacks. After all, liberals complaining about the administration's economic policies got us nowhere. Maybe they'll actually listen when Republicans do it!
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 of his top priorities, using a legislative maneuver to postpone the approval of financial reform legislation by a key House committee.
Two buildings away, at a session of the Joint Economic Committee, Republicans escalated their attacks on Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, including a call for his resignation.
"Conservatives agree that as point person, you failed. Liberals are growing in that consensus as well," said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.). "For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?"
Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) took a different tack. "I don't think that you should be fired," he told Geithner. "I thought you should have never been hired."
The Democrats are also fed up with the president's economic policies. Rep. Pete DeFazio, progressive:
"I have had a number of people say to me, 'I feel the same way you do but I'm not going to say it.' People are worried it will rub off on the president who still enjoys popularity," he said. "I tell them I still support the president. I just think he is being poorly served by his economic team."
"The truth of the matter," DeFazio added, "is that we have not changed the way the money is being used. It is not being used for the purpose it was supposed to be used for. We are not creating jobs and we have not aggressively taken on the culture of Wall Street."
At this juncture, the notion of Obama dumping Geithner remains far-fetched. Officials at the White House say that the Treasury Secretary still has the trust of the president and argue that he has played an instrumental role in righting the nation's economy. At Treasury, meanwhile, aides are acutely aware of the frustration over small business lending. They note that they have increased caps on small business loans, cut taxes for small business and changed the structure of the TARP to make it more open for community banks. If not for the poor reputation of the program, they argue, these banks would be more willing to take the government's money.
For DeFazio, however, the issue is as much one of perception as it is about policy. One of his chief concerns was that the president appeared enamored with the lords of finance. "The administration has, thus far, not threaded the needle here," he said. "They have taken care of Wall Street but not the rest of the country."
There is, the congressman concluded, "an anger" among the working class that could be a major factor in 2010. And without a new focus on jobs and small business from the White House, DeFazio warned, "a faux populist" Republicanism will fill the void.