Levees Not War
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“Pass This Jobs Bill”

09/8/11

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“I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans—including many who sit here tonight. . . .”

“This is the American Jobs Act. It will lead to new jobs for construction workers, for teachers, for veterans, for first responders, young people and the long-term unemployed. It will provide tax credits to companies that hire new workers, tax relief to small business owners, and tax cuts for the middle class. And here’s the other thing I want the American people to know: The American Jobs Act will not add to the deficit. It will be paid for.”

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President Challenges Congress to Act as if It’s Functional

President Obama did the right thing—about two years late—in asking for an address before a joint session of Congress. For only the second time in his presidency in a speech other than a State of the Union address (the other occasion was in September 2009 when he launched a big push for health care reform), the president pitched to the nation a plan costing just under $450 billion designed to avert a second recession and attack an unemployment crisis and economic stagnation that require action now. Economists say it could add almost 2 million jobs. Paul Krugman says, “significantly bolder and better than I expected.” Even conservative NYT columnist David Brooks says the plan has potential and is worth pursuing.

In “plainspoken, Trumanesque” language—no wonky terms or professorial manner tonight, not even the highfalutin word “infrastructure”—Obama pressed for a jobs and economic relief package with a memorable name, the American Jobs Act, that is 55% tax cuts, 31% infrastructure and local aid, and 14% unemployment insurance. (Detailed breakdown here.) He stressed the bipartisan origins of the proposals, and about a dozen times in 30 minutes he directed Congress to “pass this bill.” Obama was assertive, even imperative, yet his message was warmed by a progressive moral vision; if he keeps this up he just might win re-election.

What’s in the American Jobs Act?

Washington Post policy analyst Ezra Klein observes that “the plan, taken as a whole, attempts to include every single theory of how to address the jobs crisis. If you believe we need more direct spending, you’ve got the infrastructure component. More tax cuts? The plan has $250 billion in tax cuts. More help for the unemployed? Yep.”

Among the elements identified by Ezra that we find most appealing are:

•  “$35 billion in aid to states and cities to prevent teacher layoffs, and earmarks $25 billion for investments in school infrastructure.”

•  “$50 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure, $15 billion for investments in vacant or foreclosed properties, and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank.” (Why not the $50 billion for an infrastructure bank that Obama has proposed before?)

•  “$49 billion to extend expanded unemployment insurance benefits. $8 billion for a new tax credit to encourage businesses to hire the long-term unemployed, and $5 billion for a new program aimed at supporting part-time and summer jobs for youth and job training for the unemployed.”

The jobs act, crafted by the administration, not left to the tender mercies of congressional committees—is heavily weighted with originally Republican ideas that will make it politically harder for the G.O.P. to dismiss. They will invent reasons to reject it anyway, though House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did have the decency to release a statement that “The proposals the President outlined tonight merit consideration.” Maybe those golf games are paying off. Republicans do not want to allow this president any kind of accomplishment before November 2012, regardless of the deep and widespread suffering of millions of jobless, homeless, hopeless fellow citizens whose taxes pay the representatives’ salaries and health plans. (Note: The American Jobs Act “will not add to the deficit”: it will be paid for by cuts elsewhere. Even if it were not paid for, it would cost only about half of the projected $800 billion addition to the deficit incurred by extension of the Bush Tax cuts for million- and billionaires in Dec. 2010.)

“The people who sent us here—the people who hired us to work for them—they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.”

“Paycheck to paycheck”? Some 15 to 20 million would-be workers have no paycheck at all, not even unemployment benefits.

Action, Not Speeches Alone. Keep Up the Pressure, Obama.

Once again the president’s words, delivered perhaps too late to do any good, are welcome to our ears, but it’s the follow-through, the commitment to persistent efforts to pass the bill, that really matters. (Channel your inner LBJ, Mr. President.) Similarly, his Labor Day promise to stand up for labor unions this Monday in Detroit (“as long as I’m in the White House I’m going to stand up for collective bargaining”) might have made a real difference had he spoken in Madison or Milwaukee back in March when workers Wisconsin (and Ohio, etc.) really needed him.

Rachel Maddow asked White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett if the president has a plan to meet with heads of congressional committees (Ways and Means, Finance, etc.) to win their support. Jarrett skipped that part and said the president will be going straight to the American people, blah blah blah. Can’t he do both? This president’s penchant for hanging back till a crisis peaks is matched by his weakness in foll0w-through. We dislike Republicans’ policies but we do admire the party’s ruthless discipline in leaving nothing to chance. Democrats for the most part have better policies, but are weak, vacillating, afraid to offend, full of platitudes. They also tend to cede the microphone to Republicans as if the Donkey party is shy and undeserving of media attention.

Everything will depend on whether the White House cracks the whip on all Democratic leadership to get this legislation passed, pulls out the stops to urge the public to press representatives of all parties to heed the president’s demand, made quite plain, to “pass this jobs bill.”

Citizens, Too, Must Help Pass This Jobs Act

It’s not only up to Congress, it’s also up to us, the American people, to push this thing through, or at least try as if it matters. And if the Party of Hell No filibusters this good plan to death, we must cattle-prod Democrats and independents and socialists and everyone else—yes, even the corporate (not “mainstream”) media—to hold them accountable, to call them out by name, and make these well-compensated obstructionists pay a price for prolonging the suffering of their fellow citizens who, again, pay for the congressmen’s “government-run” health care. (Click here and here for extensive media contact lists. For all senators click here, and here for representatives.)

For our part, we will phone and fax Democratic and Republican members of Congress—yes, even Republicans—and we urge our readers to do the same with the contact info on our Political Action page. Write letters to the editor of your local paper. Phone your members of Congress. Use social media to spread messages, articles, talking points, or plan direct actions. The president doesn’t stand up on his hind legs often enough, but when he does, we must not leave him to do all the heavy lifting alone. Demand that your representatives vote for this jobs bill, and tell Democrats to emerge from their caves and find cameras and microphones and speak up as though they too are worthy of appearing on TV and radio. Even on MSNBC and Huffington Post, it seems, all we ever hear about are Republicans this, Republicans that.

Democrats, Grab the Microphone and Point Fingers, for God’s Sake.

One last note before closing: We sorely wish the Obama administration did not send out such weak, soft spokespersons to face the cameras. (The Bush administration was not much better.) Valerie Jarrett, David Plouffe, David Axelrod, Austan Goolsbee—these advisers have their talents but they do not project strength or inspire confidence. They exude nice platitudes but never call out the president’s obstructive and often nasty detractors by name. They speak as if, sadly, “Washington politics” is to blame, and even in the insane high-stakes hostage crisis about the debt ceiling they tended to give the impression that it wasn’t one (mad, tea-drunken) party threatening to burn down the national and global economy. Is this how they hope to woo those elusive “independent” voters, by being inoffensively nonpartisan? Good luck. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is sharp and capable of strong argument, but in her new capacity as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee she comes across as tame, watered down. We miss Anthony Weiner. Can’t we please have someone strong, witty, and aggressive like Howard Dean? The Democratic party has a serious communications deficit and had better start training its members in sharp, focused, disciplined public speaking. This should be a priority, just as the 50-state strategy was Howard Dean’s pet project when he was DNC chair.

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Photo credits: top photograph by Doug Mills/New York Times; 2nd photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI.

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