If economic growth continues to slow ahead of the election, Democrats’ pitch to voters may have to sharpen as the party’s odds of victory in the presidential and congressional elections would likely worsen.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) floated one possible trial balloon Tuesday afternoon when he accused House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) of deliberately sabotaging the economy for partisan gain.
“You have heard, as I’ve heard, that there’s a battle going on between Cantor and [House Speaker John] Boehner as to whether or not there should be a [highway] bill,” Reid told reporters. “Cantor, of course — I’m told by others that he wants to not do a bill to make the economy worse, because he feels that’s better for them. I hope that’s not true.”
It’s a theory that progressives have grown sympathetic to as Republicans make it ever-more difficult for President Obama to govern and thwart initiatives in Congress to stimulate the economy. Democratic operatives have loosely floated the claim in broad ways by suggesting the GOP is hoping for economic failure, but Reid’s pointed accusation took it to a new level.
And it provoked a speedy, incredulous response from Cantor’s office.
“Leader Reid’s claims are ridiculous and patently false,” said Cantor’s spokeswoman Laena Fallon via email. “Rather than making up stories that have no basis in reality, Leader Reid should follow the House’s example and focus on pro-growth measures that will get the economy going and get people back to work.”
Nor was Boehner’s office about to let Reid’s remark slide. “That’s bullshit,” said his spokesman Michael Steel. “House Republicans are united in our desire to get a sensible, reform-minded transportation bill done, including job-creating energy initiatives like Keystone.”
Faced with grim economic news, the White House is experimenting with a similar theory.
“It’s not okay to simply root for failure and hope it pays off politically,” spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday, when asked why Congress isn’t passing Obama’s stimulus measures.
Reid’s remarks were nominally about the highway bill that passed the Senate in March on an unusually bipartisan vote of 77-24, seeking to keep alive major transportation projects. But House Republicans have refused to accept it, and forced a short-term, scaled back measure that expires at the end of June. Disputes have since lingered on how to proceed.
Fallon pointed out that last Friday, Cantor said he was “hopeful” that the House and Senate could resolve their differences on the legislation. “But, again, very mindful we don’t want to allow for any shutdown of any program at the end of this month,” he said.
Reid reminded reporters Tuesday that “millions of jobs” are at stake.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.