Out of Control Policy Blog

The Politics of the Jobs Speech Last Night

Back in early 2009 the President opened his administration by telling Congress if they did not act immediately to pass a stimulus that unemployment would skyrocket, possible as high as 9 percent. The Recovery Act zipped through Congress, hundreds of billions were spent on infrastructure projects, on rescue packages to states to pay teachers and firemen, on tax cuts for the middle class, and tax credits for small businesses. 

Two and half years later the President went before Congress and, terrified of a double dip recession, demanded his American Jobs Act be passed immediately. Once again terrified of unemployment and recession, he proposes spending hundreds of billions on... infrastructure projects, on rescue packages to states to pay teachers and firemen, on tax cuts for the middle class, and credits for small businesses.

You can not make this stuff up.

To be fair to the president, the form and flourish of the speech last night was better written than my proposed speech idea (though not in substance), and it was delivered with force that we have not seen for a while in his presidency. He certainly rallied many to his cause. And for a brief moment one might have thought he really could bridge the partisan divide. 

Then everyone realized there was a Tea Party and the hopes for bi-partisanship disappeared. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. A bi-partisan agreement to invade Mexico wouldn't be good. A bi-partisan constitutional definition of marriage between a man and woman would be terrible. And bi-partisan continuance of the Patriot Act is harmful. 

The debate should be on substance. And if the goal of Jobs Act is to reverse the unemployment trend, then it is a bad plan and Tea Party principle should stop it in its tracks. 

I don't think the plan is really aimed at reversing unemployment though. As I outlined yesterday, this can't be done in a short-time frame and we face not the remnants of a contraction and recession, but a shift in the fundamentals of the American economy. 

I think the plan is about preventing a double dip recession. The White House probably thinks they can survive perpetual 9 percent unemployment when voting time rolls around next November. Double-digit unemployment might kill them. And a second recession (assuming the first one really ended given the weakness that is trying to measure GDP) would certainly be a huge hurdle to face. Looking at the details of this Jobs Act, it appears designed politically to try and give the economy a little jolt that can last 14 months or so before petering out like the few stimulating activities of the Recovery Act.

See the American Jobs Act here and then compare it to programs in our Taxpayer's Guide to the Stimulus. A lot of similarities. We'll be pointing out some of the differences on the blog later today.

Anthony Randazzo is Director of Economic Research


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