As President Theodore Roosevelt once wrote, “I have a very strong feeling that it is a president’s duty to get on with Congress if he possibly can, and that it is a reflection upon him if he and Congress come to a complete break.”
Throughout President Obama’s administration, he has had difficulty working with Congress. That has been especially true in this era of divided government. In fact, the president has often refused to negotiate or consider anything other than his own vision, and he continues to disregard real solutions to the most pressing issue of our day: our broken economy.
Last week, five years into his presidency, the nation watched as the president delivered the annual State of the Union address, attempting to inspire unity and promising a “Year of Action” with or without Congress. To get things done in divided government, however, the president must set goals that unite Democrats and Republicans.
He started off by claiming success through the “lowest unemployment rate in over five years,” but he failed to acknowledge that our country is actually suffering the weakest recovery since World War II. While some jobs have been created, others have been lost and many individuals have given up even trying to find work. During October and December, the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR), which measures the adult labor force as a percent of the population or those currently participating in the workforce, was 62.8 percent, according the U.S. Department of Labor.
This represents the lowest participation rate found since March 1978. To put it in perspective, during this Administration, nearly 11.3 million adults have left the workforce and total employment has grown by just 2.4 million; this means that more people are leaving the job market than entering it.
These statistics alone should drive the president to offer regulatory relief, reform entitlements and put the country on fiscally firm footing that allows job creators and workers to thrive. Instead, he continues to rely on rhetoric filled with lofty ambitions that would either add to the more than $17 trillion national debt level or require higher taxes to cover federal spending. Considering that the president has already added more than $6.5 trillion to the national debt, new programs without a pay-for or corresponding cut to spending is unacceptable regardless of the program’s worth. Whether an idea or program is worthwhile is not the question we should ask. The only question worth considering in light of our economic situation is: “Can we afford it?”
Most certainly the country would like to see reforms that benefit the American people. That’s why the House of Representatives has passed dozens of bills that would benefit job creators, bring new jobs and improve the workforce. For example, the SKILLS Act would provide training programs for the long-term unemployed, helping them improve skills and giving them a wider range of job opportunities. Unfortunately, most of this legislation still awaits action in the Senate.
The president claimed during his address, “One of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy.” However, his inaction regarding the approval for construction of the Keystone pipeline speaks more about his so-called commitment to American energy. For nearly 2,000 days, TransCanada has awaited approval of its permit to begin construction. As a reminder, this project would bring more than 100,000 jobs to Americans without costing the taxpayers anything.
While his rhetoric tried to suggest otherwise, the president has already proved more inclined to fight Congress than work with it. We are a nation of laws and each branch of government serves as a check on the other. Whether the president likes it or not, he cannot act without Congress and claim success.
In the coming days, especially with the expiring debt ceiling, the president has a real opportunity to move past rhetoric and into actual conversation and cooperation with lawmakers. Otherwise, he will be remembered in history for his inability to lead, negotiate with lawmakers or accomplish anything of value.