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Will Obama Control the Jobs Message?

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Watching President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress, Americans were reminded of his oratorical prowess.  That's never been his problem.  In the two years 230 days plus of his Presidency Obama has given many powerful speeches but not followed up lost control of the message.  On September 8 th  he laid out a strong jobs plan; now he has to push it through Congress.

In the comic strip Peanuts there was an annual situation.  Each fall Lucy would hold the football for Charlie Brown to kick and then, at the last minute, drop it.  That parallels the recent relationship between Obama and Democrats.  The President promises to hold the ball and then drops it before Dems can kick it.

Thursday night Obama laid out a comprehensive jobs plan.  But Americans know that it will meet dogmatic resistance from congressional Republicans.  The question is whether the President can battle with them over a protracted period and prevail.  So far, his record has not been encouraging.   Writing in THE NEW YORK REVIEW, Yale Professor David Bromwich observed, "Obama has always preferred the symbolic authority of the grand utterance to the actual authority of a directed policy... protracted moods of extreme abstraction seem to alternate with spasmodic engagement."  On the stimulus package, healthcare reform, Afghanistan, global climate change, the annual budget, the debt ceiling, and other critical items, the President started out strong and then got soft.

Obama's plan, "The American Jobs Act," would cost $447 billion.  Of this amount, tax cuts comprise more than half.  $175 billion would result from cutting employee payroll taxes in half in 2012: "Rather than having 6.2 percent of their wages deducted in Social Security taxes, workers will pay only 3.1 percent next year."  This tax cut would affect 160 million workers and typically result in $1500 tax savings per household.

 $65 billion in tax cuts would result from cutting employer payroll taxes in half in 2012.  "The President's plan would provide tax cuts for all firms, with focused relief on the 98 percent with less than $5 million in payroll."

It's unlikely that the $245 billion in tax cuts will meet sustained congressional resistance, although Obama was vague about how these cuts would ultimately be paid for he promised to provide more specifics in ten days.  The battle will be joined over the President's plans for job creation.

Of the remaining $202 billion, slightly less than half -- $99 billion, goes for two items: infrastructure and Unemployment Insurance.  Obama proposed $50 billion for "immediate investments in infrastructure." "In order to jumpstart critical infrastructure projects and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, the President's plan includes $50 billion in immediate investments for highway, highway safety, transit, passenger rail, and aviation activities."  (The President proposed $140 billion for "putting workers back on the job while rebuilding and modernizing America."  After infrastructure the next largest amount, $35 billion, would be spent to rehire teachers and first responders public servants who otherwise would be out of a job.  Interestingly, another $15 billion would go to Project Rebuild: ": The bursting of the housing bubble and the Great Recession that followed has left communities across the country with large numbers of foreclosed homes and businesses, which is weighing down property values, increasing blight and crime, and standing in the way of economic recovery. In these same communities there are also large numbers of people looking for work, especially in the construction industry, where more than 1.9 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. The President is proposing Project Rebuild to help address both of these problems by connecting Americans looking for work in distressed communities with the work needed to repair and repurpose residential and commercial properties.")

After infrastructure, the next largest amount, $49 billion, is allocated to "reform our Unemployment Insurance system to provide greater flexibility, while ensuring 6 million people do not lose benefits."  "In these times, the federal emergency unemployment system must offer not just a weekly check, but also an aggressive strategy to connect the unemployed to work through reforms ranging from rigorous assessment and job-search assistance to flexible work-based uses of federal UI to smart strategies to prevent layoffs in the first place."  ($13 billion would also be spent to coax employers to hire the long-term unemployed.)

On September 8 th  the President presented a strong jobs plan.  It's a strategy that will stimulate a stagnant economy and reduce America's 9.1 percent unemployment rate.  Now Obama has to fight for it.  Not for a week or two, with a few town-hall meetings, but for months with speech after speech, and sustained congressional arm twisting.

If Barack Obama is going to control the jobs message, he has to cast off the mantle of Jimmy Carter and take on the persona of Lyndon Baines Johnson.  No more mister nice guy, Barack; Democrats need you to be their son-of-a-b*tch.

 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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