There is little doubt that the economy is weaker than anyone would like it to be, and that the recovery, adversely affected by a crisis in Europe, revolutions in the Middle East, an enormous earthquake in Japan, and GOP anti-growth policies in Congress and in the states, seemed to grind to a near-halt by the end of the second quarter of this year. Still, bits and pieces of good economic news keep on trickling, such as the upturn in the market at the end of last week driven by data showing that new unemployment claims were down by 7,000 in the last week to 395,000, and are now below 400,000 for the first time in four months. Retail sales also continued their strong growth in July.
While the political media loves to lament Congress and the President for "not focusing on jobs", far be it from them to actually examine what either the President or Congress is doing for jobs. They constantly keep telling us that the President needs to "show" that he's working on jobs, but they run from covering the actual things the president is doing to work on jobs like the plague.
So, it falls on us, once again, to cover what the national media will not. The White House laid out the President's ideas, and I intent to expand on those. Here are the ideas:
Eisenhower II: Let's re-build American roads, bridges and railways: Create One Million Jobs Right Now
With the Recovery Act, President Obama made the most significant investment in infrastructure since Eisenhower and the freeways. But that investment included both broadband development in rural areas as well as road construction. The President is now proposing we double down on road construction and finally bring America up to a 21st century system of roads, bridges and railways.
The president's proposal - which was first a part of his 2012 budget (so much for "President not talking about jobs!!!!" meme) is now being renewed, would immediately begin putting a million out-of-work construction workers back to work. That's right, it's a plan that frontloads with $50 billion in the first year that Congress could come back to town and pass tomorrow and cut the unemployment rolls by 1 million in a very short period of time. And it would keep people employed while rebuilding America. It would provide, over six years (remember, it's front loaded with $50 billion in the first year):
- $53 billion to continue high speed rail construction.
- A national infrastructure bank leverage $30 billion in federal funding with private capital to multiply that investment. Has this sort of thing worked before? Yes. A similar investment was made in the small business jobs bill last year as loan guarantees that sent small business borrowing shooting up this year (which is good news for jobs since small businesses create about two-thirds of new jobs).
- $32 billion in Transportation Leadership Awards to incentivize state and local governments to adopt critical reforms and leverage federal dollars to make more critical investments and create more jobs.
Unprecedented national fuel efficiency standards and clean energy jobs
The new fuel economy standards announced by the administration with the cooperation of automakers (once again, people who are addicted to conflict only as a way to get things done, please pay attention) would almost double the average fuel economy by 2025 to 54.5 miles per gallon. By 2025, this will save consumers $1.7 trillion, which they can use, oh, I dunno, to buy things! The administration has also set standards - the first of their kind - for commercial vehicles like trucks and buses. That will save businesses $50 billion, which they can use to hire additional employees.
But the implementation of these standards and the economic activity coming from those savings is still at least a few years away. What isn't a few years away is the building of the technologies that will make it possible for manufacturers to meet those standards. The President has been highlighting clean energy jobs created especially by battery manufacturers - good paying jobs that are being created right now. Let;s just be thankful the President did not need Congress' cooperation on this, or you know the GOP Jobs Blockade would try to stop this too.
Extend the Payroll Tax Cut enacted last December
During the deal last December that kept taxes from going up on working families, President Obama was able to get a payroll tax cut for every working American. Regardless of whether you make enough to pay income taxes (and thus get income tax cuts), if you work for a living, you pay payroll taxes - taxes that go to fund Social Security. The President got a 2-point cut for every American without impacting the Social Security trust fund (as Treasury was required to reimburse the lost revenue to the trust fund from its general fund).
With this law and its predecessor, the Making Work Pay tax credit that was part of the Recovery Act in 2009, President Obama is the first president to deliver targeted tax relief to the working poor in many of our lifetimes. Also, given that social security taxes extend to about $107,000 of one's income per year, this tax cut is targeted to the working poor and the middle class without resulting in a boondoggle for the ultra-rich.
Why is the targeting so important? Because people who benefit the most from it are also the most likely to spend any additional dollars in their pocket. Not to buy luxuries, but to buy everyday necessities - like shoes for the kids, getting their broken oven fixed or clothes they need for work. That's the spending that also helps our economy going. I would say that the payroll tax cut is in no small part responsible for the strong retail sales growth throughout the year. Driven by that sales growth, retail jobs growth has also been an essential part of the recovery, with retailers adding 26,000 jobs last month alone.
Extend unemployment benefits
The right wing politicians who constantly block jobs measures in Congress are also the first to try to block unemployment benefits. Contrary to the Republican mantra, however, the unemployed are not lazy. They are unemployed. Unemployment benefits give the unemployed the resources they need to stay afloat while they look for a job in a very tough economy, and every dollar in unemployment benefits adds $1.60 to the economy. This is even more effective than the payroll tax cut, because of the same principle - that people who really have nothing spend the money they get in unemployment benefits. That spending creates economic activity - businesses get to stay open, new employees can be hired (or the old ones kept) and it keeps the bottom from falling out of the economy.
What with all the talk of "uncertainty," let's make sure that this badly needed - and hard-earned - benefit for working Americans is not taken away at the end of this year. Let's extend it. This is an incredibly important injection of stimulus into the economy at the same time it is a lifeline for those who are hanging on by a thread.
Put returning war heroes back to work
The President has proposed a returning heroes tax credit for companies to hire veterans and disabled veterans who have so much still to give our country. Here is the summary of the president's plan, as outlined by Iraq and Afghan veteran Matt Flavin:
Our veterans are our best. They not only deserve the support of a grateful nation, but these credits will speed up hiring and training of people who are already skilled and are agile learners, adding both cash flow and innovation to our economy. This is so much of a no-brainer that it is absolutely dumbfounding that Congress wouldn't just make it it town for a day - hell, a couple of hours - and pass this and then go back to their vacation.
- Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Tax Credits: A new Returning Heroes Tax Credit for firms that hire unemployed veterans (maximum credit of $2,400 for every short-term unemployed hire and $4,800 for every long-term unemployed hire) and a Wounded Warriors Tax Credit which will increase the existing tax credit for firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been unemployed long-term (maximum credit of $9,600 per veteran) and continue the existing credit for all other veterans with a service-connected disability (maximum credit of $4,800).
- A Challenge to the Private Sector to Hire or Train 100,000 Unemployed Veterans or Their Spouses by the End of 2013: The President will challenge businesses to commit to hire or provide training to unemployed veterans or their spouses. Joining Forces will lead this work with businesses and industry.
- Presidential Call for a Career-Ready Military: The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, working closely with other agencies and the President’s economic and domestic policy teams, will lead a new task force to develop reforms to ensure that every member of the service receives the training, education, and credentials they need to transition to the civilian workforce or to pursue higher education. These reforms will include the design of a “reverse bootcamp,” which will extend the transition period to give service members more counseling and guidance and leave them career-ready.
- Transition to the Private Sector: The Department of Labor will establish a new initiative to deliver an enhanced career development and job search service package to transitioning veterans at their local One-Stop Career Centers. The Office of Personnel Management will create a “Best Practices” Manual for the private sector to help businesses identify and hire veterans.
Pass President Obama's trade agreements
The president has worked hard and won trade agreements from our trading partners that not only protects environmental and labor standards as core parts of the agreements but actually creates jobs in the United States.
The South Korea agreement, for example, can significantly expand jobs in the American auto industry. The agreement with Panama could boost US exports by $1 billion a year and support thousands of American jobs. The agreement with India would increase American exports by $10 billion a year and support 50,000 jobs.
Yet, we have Republicans in Congress dragging their feet, and some liberals decrying any and all trade deals as a horrible terrible thing without paying attention to the details. Of course, our media is no less callous about covering the actual details of the agreement, either. But if we got serious about this, we could start bringing serious investments into the United States right now as well as selling our products abroad in growing markets which would support, you know, jobs!
Cut the patent hold-up red tape
I have heard plenty of people who are supposedly on the "Left" poo-poo and make fun of patent reform. Regardless, the truth is that right now, it takes three years to get a patent. Most things patented hardly need to be put through lead-toothpaste safety tests. But patents are one of the core things innovative companies rely on to bring a product to market and create jobs. Intellectual property rights are important in a country dependent on a private sector economy.
Bills to do patent reform have already passed the House and the Senate. Maybe Congress can get their behinds back in town and actually reconcile the two versions and pass it?
Concluding thoughts: The GOP Jobs Blockade
A recent report found that the Great Bush Recession was not only the worst economic downturn in this history of the United States save the Great Depression, but that it was much worse than we even previously thought. No effort at job creation and helping the economy can be spared when we are trying to come back from that type of a deep hole.
It was kind of interesting to watch the Republican debate on Thursday night as their presidential third-classers lamented that if they were president, they would call Congress back in session to work on jobs. It being a Fox-sponsored debate, no one bothered reminding them that the Speaker of the House comes from their party and maybe they should pick up the phone and give him a call.
The President has been trying from his first day in office to put through measures to boost job creation. Again and again, he's been met with Republican obstruction - or what I like to call the GOP Jobs Blockade. During the first two years of Obama's presidency, the GOP Jobs Blockade took the form of undemocratic and unprecedented number of filibusters in the US Senate, slowing down the government's response, and blocking needed action on job creation. And since the Republicans took over the House in last November's elections, the GOP Jobs Blockade turned into active efforts to kill 3 million jobs.
So maybe it's time for the media - on the Left and the Right, both traditional and "new" - to wake the hell up and start covering the actual story on jobs. The actual story on jobs is not that Washington has been ignoring it. The actual story on jobs is that the President has been putting his ideas out there - ideas that are solid, time-tested and real, while the GOP has been mounting a jobs blockade against the American people for the past three years after causing the economy to fall off the cliff in the first place. That's the truth; you people in the media might try telling it for once.