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Obama can’t get much done if GOP won’t play ball

Updated: August 26, 2013 4:18PM

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, in a sentimental return to Knox College on Wednesday, told us he will “use every minute of the remaining 1,276 days of my term to make this country work for working Americans again. That’s all I care about.”

I never thought otherwise.

But without any partners among the Republican leaders who control the House, Obama is very limited in what he can do. Executive orders are merely an OK alternative. For anything big, Obama needs Congress.

Obama won a second term. So did the House Republican leaders.

Obama’s speech at the downstate Galesburg school — running 64 minutes, three minutes longer than his 2013 State of the Union Address — was his bid to prod the press and public into focusing on the broad strokes of his plans to bolster the middle class and raise the income of the lowest earners.

White House staffers said over the past few days that Obama would not be making news in his Knox speech — or even plow new policy ground — and they kept their word.

The campaign-style address — one of a string on the economy Obama will deliver in the coming days — was hyped by the White House and allied outside groups before and after, packaged with a “#ABetterBargain” hashtag. White House deputy senior adviser David Simas sent an email afterward with suggested retweets from the speech.

I don’t think every speech has to be about something new. The Obama message that the economy is brightening — but so much more so for the 1 percenters than for the rest of us, and it does not have to be that way — is worth repeating.

As for Obama’s attacks on House Republicans for an “endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals,” well, nagging hasn’t worked so far, but Obama has nothing to lose.

Flashback: On a hot Aug. 17, 2011, Obama spoke at a town hall at the Wyffels Hybrids Production Facility in downstate Atkinson. “The only thing that’s holding us back right now is our politics,” he said at the time.

So what is this really is about? A few things.

Looking toward the 2014 midterms is one.

While the Obama team relished the historical lines they drew between Obama’s June 2005 graduation address at Knox — an economic manifesto Obama laid out as a senator from Illinois — the place he picked is a House district with one of the biggest 2014 battles already brewing.

Obama not only gave the freshman who represents Galesburg, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), a ride on Air Force One, he mentioned her three times in his speech.

To back my argument, I have some proof: First Lady Michelle on Wednesday night sent out a political email about the “struggles” of the middle class and how the president “needs solid Democrats in Congress to help him. I’m asking you to be part of the team working to elect more Democrats in Washington and across the country. Say you’re in.”

Moreover, the Obama team wants to avoid a repeat of the summer of 2010 — when the Tea Party movement started, fueled by hostility to Obama’s push to pass a sweeping health care law — which led to the Democrats losing the House that November.

The Tea Party thrived that summer, with folks showing up at town halls, filling a political void.

We’re coming into an August recess — and Obama will be in Martha’s Vineyard on vacation in August. Obama wants to try to own the conversation as long as he can and not let August go up in political flames with members scattered back in their districts.

Obama challenged the Republicans to come with ideas — creating the false impression that they have none.

The problem is not ideas. Everyone’s got ideas. The issue is ideology. That’s what the next 1,276 days will be about.

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