Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Choose One: (Mr. Boehner) (Mr. Obama) Where Are The Jobs?

The day after passage of the bill raising the debt ceiling, Senate Democrats and House Democrats each held a press conference. New Yorker Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, vowed “With this debt-reduction package completed, the decks are now clear for a single-minded focus on jobs in September. The jobs issue won’t have to play second fiddle to the deficit issue anymore.” Nancy Pelosi- bless her heart- remarked "For the past few months, the American people have wondered, ‘Why are we talking about this debt rather than talking about jobs?’ We had the vote. We don’t like the deal, but it’s a done deal. It’s time for us to completely focus on jobs.”

The previous evening, President Obama spoke to the nation from the Rose Garden. After pledging to cut Medicare, he said that families are

looking for work, and they have been for a while; or they’re making do with fewer hours or fewer customers; or they’re just trying to make ends meet. That ought to compel Washington to cooperate. That ought to compel Washington to compromise, and it ought to compel Washington to act. That ought to be enough to get all of us in this town to do the jobs we were sent here to do. We’ve got to do everything in our power to grow this economy and put America back to work.

This statement, urging compromise and cooperation but doing "everything in our power," presumably is meant to mean whatever the listener wants it to mean. Nevertheless, coupled with statements from congressional leaders such as Schumer and Pelosi, it represents a "pivot" to jobs on behalf of America's center-right party. Politico's Ben Smith identifies six attempts- in February and November of 2009, April, June, and December of 2010, and January of 2011- on the part of the Administration "to pivot formally to jobs."

It is tempting to say that this time will be no different, that expanding employment opportunities will be eclipsed in importance by some other issue. Except this time it is different- it will be harder. Robert Reich explains the President

says he wants to extend tax cuts for middle class families and make sure the jobless get unemployment benefits.

Fine, but the new deal won’t let him. He’ll have to go back to Congress after the recess (five weeks from now) and round up enough votes to override the budget caps that now restrict spending. What are the odds? Maybe a little higher than zero.

He says he wants an “infrastructure bank” that would borrow money from private capital markets to pay private contractors to rebuild our nations roads, bridges, airports, and everything else that’s falling apart.

Fine, but the new deal he just signed may not let him do this either – if the infrastructure bank relies on federal funds or even federal loan guarantees to attract private money. The only way he could create an infrastructure bank without sweetening the pot would be by privatizing all the new infrastructure. That means toll roads and toll bridges, user-fee airports, and entry fees everywhere else.

Maybe the President and his congressional allies should have thought of this before- not only before the deal was consummated but before Barack Obama jumped on the GOP bandwagon and talked deficit, deficit, deficit. Perhaps he should have thought about it before he adopted Republican talking points on the economy, before he proposed cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

But the President wouldn't have done that. When he talks about jobs, he's thinking about the job-killing trade deals his Administration is working on. And when he joins Republicans in promoting "tax reform," he cannot be unaware that the GOP uses the same phrase to refer to an effort to lower taxes on corporations while reducing the number of medium-income Americans who pay no income tax. (That is why they promote "widening the tax base" while complaining that over half of Americans pay no income tax, a statistical anomaly caused by the recession and Obama tax cuts in fiscal 2010.)

Perhaps Barack Obama will move aggressively to create good-paying jobs, as he wants us to believe he is promising. But then, this also is the fellow who pledged to protect whistleblowers, bring a new era of transparency, or to end the war in Iraq.

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