The President’s address fell mainly in line with what he’s been saying over the past several weeks: with the debt limit deal, a “manufactured crisis” in his words, put to bed, now the good and wise and responsible members of Congress can get to work on a jobs package to put America back to work. This is the big pivot, the time when all the focus shifts to jobs. Isn’t it exciting?
Only Congress won’t be getting back to work. They’re leaving town for a month. And when they return, there will only be a month of work left until the 2012 appropriations must be put together. And after that, the recommendations of the Catfood Commission II have to be finished. And so I fail to see when this jobs focus is going to take hold, putting aside the fact that 18 months of relentless rhetoric about the necessity of deficit cutting is enough to return John Maynard Keynes to his coffin and throw away the key, regardless of whatever terrible economic indicators crop up over the next year.
This is especially true when the President reiterates that the debt deal somehow saved the economy.
This compromise guarantees more than $2 trillion in deficit reduction. It’s an important first step to ensuring that as a nation we live within our means. Yet it also allows us to keep making key investments in things like education and research that lead to new jobs, and assures that we’re not cutting too abruptly while the economy is still fragile.
Almost nothing here is true. Public investment as a share of the economy will be at a 60-year low under this deal. The immediate cuts aren’t terrible, but still should shave 0.3% off GDP. And worse, current fiscal policy is a drag on the economy. The best we can say about the debt limit deal is that it was only anti-expansionary.
To Obama’s credit, he returned to pushing for an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, but that and a dime will get you a cup of coffee. In the age of austerity, I don’t see Congress really motivated on these lines. And the rest of the President’s jobs agenda is a pretty weak stew. Here’s what he’s talking about to “help the father looking for work…. the single mom who’s seen her hours cut back at the hospital… for businesses to put up that “now hiring” sign.”
• As I said, extending the payroll tax and UI.
• Patent reform. As a jobs bill.
• A series of three trade deals, two with pretty small countries, that will probably do little more than increase the trade deficit and cost American jobs. Obama made a nod to the trade adjustment assistance he wants in the deals that “would help displaced workers looking for new jobs.”
• An infrastructure bank.
The President also took time to mention the FAA partial shutdown, and urged Congress to get that cleared up before the Senate adjourns for a month. There’s an indication that might happen, but understand what it means – the Senate would have to swallow the House bill that cancels out Essential Air Service subsidies, and reduces leverage on the main fight in this authorization bill, the right for airline workers to organize.
There was a tantalizing reference to “additional ideas” in coming weeks. And Obama did talk about a “quiet crisis” of unemployment and job security happening all over the country. But this is election-focused lip service at this point, after the entire dynamic in Washington has shifted. The President practically cheerleaded – and is still cheerleading – that shift in the dynamic, which actually led to action. He has “pivoted” to jobs about a dozen times in his first term, and it hasn’t led to a whole lot.
If an American Dream movement wants to draw up a list of job ideas and create teachable moments on them for the next decade or so, they ought to do it. They ought to take up the mantle of infrastructure, of public works. I’m not seeing the President as the one who will carry this forward.