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Obama’s jobs plan: stimulus is still a four-letter word

There’s a rare and genuine sense of hope in Washington tonight since nobody shouted “You Lie!” or walked out of the Barack Obama’s much anticipated jobs speech to a joint session of Congress. There was even slight praise from the Republican side that some of the proposals had “merit”. At last it might be political dysfunction, rather than the economy, than it is in decline in America.

Wonk-speak was banned from the unusually populist speech as the president abandoned his lofty style in favour of the language and disgust that Americans have for Washington right now. He calling out the Congress for hosting a “political circus” and claimed the unemployed shouldn’t have to wait another 14 months for politicians to take their responsibilities seriously.

Not once did he use words such as stimulus or infrastructure, but there is no denying that is what is on the table. $447 billion worth of stimulus if you include the tax cuts, transport infrastructure projects and subsidies for employing certain types of Americans like veterans and the long-term jobless.

Every cent will be paid for! None of it will be added to the already mind-blowing US deficit. Or so the White House communications office insisted with every breath today leading up to the speech. In reality the cost of the American Jobs Act will be added to the already $1.5 trillion in savings the bipartisan joint deficit super committee is tasked with finding by Thanksgiving. But, don’t worry, the hopelessly partisan gridlock will be solved this time because Obama will be offering his suggestions on Monday after next.

Actually, some worry may be warranted. His plan includes removal of some Bush-era tax cuts and subsidies accessible only to the very very wealthy. That’s something all the Republican members of the super committee have already ruled out.

But despite those concerns, the president’s openness to address excessive business regulation, Medicare and tax reform, and his primary focus on jobs rather than social safety nets netted him rare applause from the Republican side of the Congress.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner followed up with a statement saying several of the proposals merit consideration. In effect, saying he would allow some form of jobs legislation to pass before the next election. The implications of that gesture cannot be overstated when trenchant Republicans nearly brought the US to bankruptcy just last month.

There is still a wide divide between the two sides, on fundamental policy and politically with a presidential election looming. Conservatives, who claim the original GFC stimulus failed, have spent all week blasting the president’s plan, before any of it was known, accusing him of wanting to raise the corporate and highest margin individual tax rate. And they laid early groundwork to attack a popular tax cut they saw coming in the form of extending the payroll tax cuts for working class. The GOP instead prefers a cut to the corporate tax rate.

The GOP was worried about this speech. The president’s “favourable opinion” polling is the lowest since he’s been in office, despite Americans finding him likable as a person. Planted stories claimed Republican strategists would ease up, no need to “throw an anvil on him” while he’s doing so badly. All misdirect. There is little doubt he’ll get a sizable jump tomorrow, like he does after every speech. It won’t hurt that he’s promising American workers an extra $1500 in their pay-cheques next year. And he’s also stepping on what Republicans consider to be their territory.

When Obama looks out the White House front windows across Lafayette Square he sees an enormous banner over the US Chamber of Commerce’s DC headquarters that reads: “Jobs Jobs Jobs”. It is kind of hard to miss, and harder to dismiss. It was the issue that swept Republicans into the majority in congress last year. But for most of this term it’s been nothing but talk while unemployment numbers hovered at or above 9%. One in three unemployed Americans have been out of work for more than a year.

The GOP forewent the typical televised response to this presidential speech, believed to be for the first time. After the initial drama over who had the right to take up Wednesday’s air time — it went to the Republican presidential candidate debate — Obama was left to give his speech on Thursday, which happened to conflict with the opening game of the NFL season.

With Obama’s speech originally supposed to go for about 40 minutes plus applause delays, there wasn’t thought to be enough time for the GOP to have a response before the game started. Instead they decided to just give a written reply. However, the sneaky White House communications office’s final draft only went for just over 30 minutes including applause, leaving plenty of time for TV networks to give extra coverage of the president’s message and not the GOP’s. So the only responses you’ll see from the GOP are the likes of Michele Bachmann, probably unwise defence of Congress.

Tonight, Obama stepped up and took the jobs mantle away from Republicans.

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  • 1
    William Fettes
    Posted Friday, 9 September 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I’d like a source for the claim that Republicans won Congress based on jobs please? There’s not a scintilla of evidence for it IMO. The Republicans certainly won on incumbent dissatisfaction, general economic malaise and indicia of big government like bailouts and high deficits. But jobs had nothing to do with it, except if you use a bending over backwards gymnastic interpretation of austerity rhetoric.

  • 2
    Michael James
    Posted Friday, 9 September 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    The implications of that gesture cannot be overstated when trenchant Republicans nearly brought the US to bankruptcy just last month…”

    Funny, it takes both sides to craft a compromise, and Obama wasn’t prepared to do so.

    It took Pelosi and Reid sitting down with the Republicans to craft a compromise which ensured that while neither side got all they wanted, both got something they could agree to.

    Obama apparently wasn’t prpared to compromise, and faced with an entrenched Presidential position, the Republican’s saw no reason to give an inch in return.

    When the matter was taken out of the White House’s purview a result was agreed.

  • 3
    William Fettes
    Posted Friday, 9 September 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Mr James, Obama is a serial compromiser and regardless of how tough and unreasonable Republicans act, he treats them with unwarranted comity and collegiality.

    Though it’s certainly true that he is often too disengaged and aloof from the public and the necessary wheeling and dealing that it takes to achieve legislative objectives, he is certainly not been tough with Republicans in any sense of the term. Your attempt to characterise his approach as winner-takes-all does not accord with any recognisable reality.

    Pick any major legislative fight, including the Health Insurance Reform, the extension of the Bush tax cuts, or the debt ceiling debacle and it’s exactly the same story. Before you can blink, he’s offered up some huge concession to the conservative side before the real bargaining begins, he never throws a real punch, and he treats the slash and burn zero-sum game being played by Republicans as if they were reasonable negotiation tactics. I mean, it’s so ridiculous that a recent poll showed the unprecedented sentiment that even registered Republican votes believe Obama should do more to stand up to their own party!

  • 4
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 9 September 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Indeed, it is a big criticism that “Obama is a serial compromise”. It is this that may well lose him the election because nothing he does will win a Tea Party vote, but he has lost some of his base that would like him to stand up as a democrat. Allowing the Bush tax cuts to roll over (for the richest few percent of Americans) and the weak health insurance reforms are two big ones.

    After the recent 5.8 level earthquake on the US east coast there was a joke circulating inside the Beltway: “Obama wanted a level 3.2, but the Republicans wanted a 5.8 so Obama compromised on a 5.8.”

    Without this characteristic of Obama this would hardly be a joke. So who knows how my namesake (at 2:51 pm) comes to his weird observation.

  • 5
    Harley Dennett
    Posted Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Even my tea party friends recognise that Obama (and Senate Democrats) were working from a starting point of compromise versus their own principled position. Actually they would phrase it more that the Democrats had realised their policies were a failure.

    On which issue won the House for Republicans in the mid-terms, the public polling put jobs as the number one issue. One thing to remember is that candidates who joined the tea party caucus were only half the pick ups in the House. The Republican’s main platform, that Boehner campaigned exclusively on, was ‘jobs jobs jobs’. Boehner himself credited the win immediately after the election to that platform. He had a mandate. Later they pivoted to a balanced budget amendment and the Paul Ryan budget.

  • 6
    AR
    Posted Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    A stray line in the speech ought to be tattooed on Abbott’s forehead so that Gillard could see each question time - “we will implement the policies the people who sent us here wanted”. The similarities between Obama & Krudd are astonishing - both came to office with huge majorities leaving the other side is deserved disarray following years on disastrous decisions, wars, vast deficits, economic partisanship producing falling real wages for the average worker and then ushering in the GFC, which was not an aberration but an inevitable, predictable result of such policies.
    To hell with the pre-emptive buckle, pick an issue, push the reasons why it is sensible and legislate. Stop trying to reason with the unreasonable.

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