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« The State of the Union | Blog Home Page | Pence Discusses Decision Not To Challenge Bayh »

Obama Targets A Deadlocked Senate

President Obama's first State of the Union had many messages for many audiences, and one of the ones he seemed to target Wednesday night was none other than his former home, the United States Senate.

On at least four occasions, the president made specific mention of the Senate for its failure to act on a piece of legislation approved by the House.

On jobs:

"Now, the House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same, and I know they will. They will. People are out of work. They're hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.

On cap and trade:

And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. And this year I'm eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.

On a deficit commission:

Now, yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I'll issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.

And on pay-go:

And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.

In a speech where Obama conceded that he has come short thus far in his mission to change the nature of politics, he also targeted the Senate in particular for the kinds of delaying tactics that have stymied his agenda.

And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership.

Knowing full well that he faces hurdles in both chambers on health care, he instead made an appeal to his own part at large, making the argument his former campaign manager articulated in a weekend op-ed - no "bed-wetting" - with a bit more presidential gravitas.

"To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.

The tone was not unnoticed by members in both chambers of the Congress.

"I think he was sending a message that it's important that the Senate end the gridlock and the obstruction," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D). But while the failure for the Senate to act on these bills could fall squarely on the shoulder of Democrats who have had 60 votes, Van Hollen instead argued that Obama "is spotlighting the fact that because of Republican obstructionism on the Senate side, you're not moving forward" on various issues.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D), whose vote is seemingly always in doubt for the Democrats, said it's easy for the House to be "more monolithic," and responded to the president's message by saying he was joining the House in "having fun jabbing the Senate." Would the Senate listen?

"I think it was heard, but I don't think it's going to rally the Senate to take action," Nelson said.