Early reports from the mis-named "Jobs Summit" convey the discouraging message that the Obama Administration doesn’t think dramatic and rapid reductions in unemployment are a high priority.
Obama told the Summit attendees that the federal government was hindered by limited resources and growing deficits, so even though the private economy is still incapable of filling the void, most job creation would have to come from the private sector. From the AP/MSNBC:
"So we can’t make any ill considered decisions right now even with the best of intentions," he said. "We have to be surgical and we’re going to have to be creative." Obama appealed to his audience of academics, business and union leaders and local officials to help him find "the biggest bang for the buck."
Way to rally and mobilize the country, give hope and hold your economic team accountable, Mr. President.
We got a preview of this pitiful handwringing in Christy Romer’s WSJ op ed, entitled Putting Americans Back to Work. I like Romer, and her work to define the scope of a needed stimulus last winter was solid, given their (too optimistic) assumptions about how deep the recession and job loss would be. It’s not her fault that her recommendations were cut in half by the dynamic duo of Summers/Geithner and then compromised further by the political genius, Rahm.
So I assume she merely drew the short straw on who must write the political defense for not doing more. But the defense contains a damaging admission:
Months ago, President Obama asked his economic team to intensify our exploration of strategies to build on the Recovery Act and subsequent measures to help spur job creation. Tomorrow he will convene a meeting of business and labor leaders, small-business owners, economists and community representatives to discuss our ideas and solicit others for accelerating hiring.
The rest of the op ed lists about three and half ideas, and then contains this revelation:
All these ideas are just that—ideas to be discussed, refined and evaluated. Action on any measures to spur job creation will be worked out with Congress after careful study, and will be done in a fiscally responsible way.
So, months ago, the President called for ideas on how to put Americans back to work, and months later, all they can show for it are few ideas that were obvious months ago and could have been compiled in a week. And yet for months, it’s been obvious that more was needed immediately, that unemployment would be far worse than they anticiated and would last far longer than they hoped.
That effort must rank as the most pathetic defense of governmental and political malfeasance we’ve seen from an Administration that is just shining us on because it just doesn’t care. Fire the lot.
Meanwhile, at a "counter summit," the Republicans brought out Douglas Holtz-Eakin to urge that we bring back Herbert Hoover. If we pay enough grave diggers enough to dig up the body, it might work. More from Think Progress.
Update: In the Republican "no-cost" jobs plan, you also get a pony.
Update II, Friday afternoon: The above post was based on the initial AP story on the Summit and my reaction to Romer’s WSJ op ed. Today, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim reports that Obama’s statement also contained otherwise unreported elements, in answer to a question from Robert Kuttner, that could be interpreted as the opposite lesson. For example:
"Now, if we can’t grow our economy, then it is going to be that much harder for us to reduce the deficit," Obama said. "The single most important thing we could do right now for deficit reduction is to spark strong economic growth, which means that people who’ve got jobs are paying taxes and businesses that are making profits have taxes — are paying taxes. That’s the most important thing we can do."
. . .
Seeking to avoid an Obama Recession, the president said: "The last thing we would want to do in the midst of what is a weak recovery is us to essentially take more money out of the system either by raising taxes or by drastically slashing spending. And frankly, because state and local governments generally don’t have the capacity to engage in deficit spending, some of that obligation falls on the federal government."
While these statements are more encouraging for those who fear the Administration may prematurely focus on deficit reduction, none of the statements reported by Grim seem, in my view, to give sufficient urgency to the need for more dramatic, rapid reductions in unemployment. Obama is splitting the baby, again. But they’re clearly better than the one-sided AP quotes I originally relied on. There’s a lesson there somewhere.
More on the exchange between Kuttner and Obama here.