There are two ways to describe the fate of the American Jobs Act, the stimulus bill introduced by the Obama administration last month. You could say that it earned a bare majority, as fifty Democrats voted to bring the legislation to a final vote. Or you could save yourself a few words, and just say that the bill failed, as Republicans—along with two centrist Democrats—opted to filibuster the legislation rather than allow an up-or-down vote.
In the parallel world where political actors are held responsible for their actions, headlines would announce that Republicans—acting on mindless hostility to President Obama—kept more than $400 billion in needed stimulus (including $175 billion in tax cuts) from reaching the economy, leaving millions without assistance and pushing the country closer to a second recession.
As it stands, newspaper writers are content to leave Republicans off the hook for their relentless obstructionism. To wit, here’s the New York Times with a description of last night’s action in the Senate:
In a major setback for President Obama, the Senate on Tuesday blocked consideration of his $447 billion jobs bill, forcing the White House and Congressional Democrats to scramble to salvage parts of the plan, the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s push to revive a listless economy.
The legislation, announced with fanfare by the president at a joint session of Congress last month, fell short of the 60 needed to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate. [Emphasis mine]
The Times‘s failure to identify the main actors might make sense if legislating were a game of Calvinball, and the AJA was blocked by a sudden and arbitrary new rule. But of course, that’s not what happened. The American Jobs Act failed because Senate Republicans chose to invoke the filibuster and raise the threshold for passage to sixty votes. The New York Times description is “balanced”—since it does apportion blame—but it does more to obscure the situation than it does explain it.
Since Obama entered office, media outlets—and newspapers especially—have obscured the locus of Congressional obstruction. The filibuster has become a routine part of Washington, and few people bother to note the extent to which its current use is ahistorical and unprecedented. This refusal to blame Republicans for their actions didn’t make sense to me then, and it doesn’t make sense to me now.