Political Animal


September 17, 2011 10:45 AM Picking and choosing from the American Jobs Act

By Steve Benen

As part of the White House’s rollout for the American Jobs Act, President Obama and his team have been fairly consistent when it comes to messaging: “pass this bill.” There haven’t been any explicit veto threats, but when asked about breaking up the economic package, officials tend to say there’s no need — this is a good plan with popular ideas that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.

As David Axelrod put it this week, in reference to members of Congress, “We want them to act now on this package. We’re not in a negotiation to break up the package. It’s not an a la carte menu. It is a strategy to get this country moving.”

Yesterday, House GOP leaders sketched out a response in a new memo. Wouldn’t you know it, Republicans aren’t inclined to embrace the whole package, as is.

House Republican leaders rejected some main elements of President Obama’s jobs plan on Friday but told their rank-and-file members that they would support other components. Approvals ranged from the well-publicized parts, like an extension of the payroll tax holiday, to the more obscure, like continuing depreciation write-offs for businesses.

After a week of gingerly walking the line of conciliation, Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader, sent a letter to their members specifying a few areas where they found common ground with Mr. Obama. […]

“We believe there are areas of common agreement,” the letter said, “and areas worthy of further conversation where agreement, assuming there are good faith discussions, may be possible.”

It’s quite a challenge for the House majority. On the one hand, they want to undercut the president, reject his relatively popular plan, undermine public confidence in political institutions, and hold the economy back until 2013. On the other hand, they don’t want to look like they’re doing any of this. Indeed, they’re being awfully polite, perhaps mindful of the public’s revulsion towards Capitol Hill lately.

So what are we left with? Republicans are largely on board with most of the president’s tax-cut plans. But that’s about it. Aid to state and local governments to prevent layoffs to teachers, police officers, and firefighters? Republicans find this unacceptable, despite strong public support. Funding for school construction and repair? Republicans find this unacceptable, too. In fact, the memo suggested this isn’t even an area the party considers open to negotiation.

And, of course, the GOP refuses to consider tax increases on anyone at any time to pay for anything.

What about infrastructure investments? From the memo:

The President has proposed $50 billion in “immediate” surface transportation funding and the creation of a new $10 billion national infrastructure bank. While spending to repair and improve infrastructure can play an important part in both short- and long-term economic growth, adding more money to the same broken system is more likely to produce waste and inefficiency than meaningful results.

There are more than 100 federal surface transportation programs, many of which are duplicative or do not serve a federal purpose. Before spending new money, for example, we could act to end the mandatory set aside that diverts 10% of current surface transportation funds from roads and bridges to transportation museums and other “enhancements.”

Republicans are open to infrastructure investments just so long as Congress doesn’t actually have to make any investments in infrastructure.

Taken together, we’re not getting a good look at Republicans approach “compromise” in the post debt-ceiling-fiasco era. They’re open to maybe cutting taxes if Obama asks nicely … and that’s about it.

If one were only reading the headlines — “House G.O.P. Leaders Find Some Things to Like About Obama’s Jobs Plan” — the impression might be that yesterday’s memo was a positive development, representing meaningful hints of progress. Maybe, one migh tbe tempted to think, a compromise will come together after all.

A closer look at the details suggests that’s just not the case.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on September 17, 2011 10:56 AM:

    Here's why you NEVER, EVER, let Republicans have any sort of ala carte choices:

    They'll always take the steak and potato's, and leave you with the broccoli and the bill.

  • martin on September 17, 2011 11:22 AM:

    Well, it's progress, the Republicans are at least considering the Republican parts of the proposal.

  • DAY on September 17, 2011 11:23 AM:

    This is gettin' F'ing tiresome!
    EVERY morning I wake up in Punxsutawney Pa.

  • Anonymous on September 17, 2011 11:23 AM:

    "10% of current surface transportation funds from roads and bridges to transportation museums and other “enhancements.”

    The are talking about bike lanes and pedestrian bridges over freeways, specifically. Can't have poor folk getting around, by their own means, without paying the Oil Troll!!

    Boehner and McConnell have said as much, they don't like bikes, and as if our entire society has not spent the taxpayers money, for decades, to build infrastructure strictly for the use of oil consumption.

    One day, as a cyclist, I will be allowed the same rights as other citizens. Until then I will just pay equal taxes and get nothing for it.

  • SYSPROG on September 17, 2011 11:47 AM:

    Hey Anonymous? Move to Portland, Oregon. Or ANYWHERE on the West Coast. We have more bike lanes, paths, alternate transportation than the whole US. The computer nerds TOTALLY fund that stuff and have stopped looking at the Feds. And they call US 'elitist snobs'...

  • ShadeTail on September 17, 2011 12:03 PM:

    ["As part of the White House's rollout for the **Affordable Care Act**,"]

    The bolded part needs to be fixed, Mr. Benen. ^_^

  • Redshift on September 17, 2011 12:38 PM:

    Don't forget about the lying! I know it's as common as air in GOP rhetoric, but we still shouldn't ignore it. "10% of current surface transportation funds" is a flat-out lie, and they know it; it's 10% of one federal funding program, which is far tinier than 10% of all the federal funding. The fact that they're repeating it means they think it works, and it should always be tagged as a lie.

  • Anonymous on September 17, 2011 12:45 PM:

    ["As part of the White House's rollout for the **Affordable Care Act**,"]

    The bolded part needs to be fixed, Mr. Benen. ^_^

    No it doesn't. This is PPACA all over again. As soon as O's team shows willingness to "compromise" (that is, jettison all of the jobs bill except the stuff Republicans can tolerate), the Repubs will come out against the same stuff they were supporting 5 minutes ago and will demand more "concessions" wash rinse repeat until we're still arguing in comment threads while Perry is accepting the Repub nomination for president.

  • The American People on September 17, 2011 12:51 PM:

    We hate even what we like as long as HE likes it, that socialist, Kenyan-born, terrorist-palling, Indonesian-educated Harvard elitist chardonny-sipping, vegetable-garden-planting, community-organizing, .. ...

    Oh, look, Chaz Bono is on TV turning all our little girls into boys, can I get back to you?

  • joejoejoe on September 17, 2011 1:49 PM:

    Transportation enhancements include funds for pedestrians, environmental mitigation and landscaping. A new road without a provision for pedestrians is called a wall.


  • just bill on September 17, 2011 1:58 PM:

    okay, this is what obama should say:

    so, you like those ideas? that's great, because we like them too. but here's the deal. in order to get the stuff you like, you've got to accept some of the stuff you don't like. because that is the definition of compromise. and this time, you guys are going to compromise, or you don't get the stuff you like.

  • jjM on September 17, 2011 2:11 PM:

    ALL the GOP has going for it is spin.

    The public has to be reminded forcefully of their mendacity, antipathy to ordinary Americans, to women, and to minorities, whom they consider giving the vote to as being like giving burglary tools to criminals, to quote one egregious GOP supporter.

    Their Harvard stooge at the Hoover Institution has the plan: create a national VAT (value added sales tax) and ELIMINATE CORPORATE INCOME TAX ALTOGETHER.

    Not 'SMALL BUSINESS TAX" as Obama proposes but corporate income tax.

    And specifically NOT 'INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAX" which is the system some countries have: the VAT, half paid by the producers, half paid by the consumers, but no individual income tax.

    So: they are exposed, but they will try to pretend that they will cooperate.

    If the MoveOns and the other progressive organizations would JUMP ON THE GOP half as much as they have jumped on Democrats and Obama with petitions and ads (which they are FINALLY starting to do -- see the health care ad) Obama wouldn't be in this pickle.

    But when even TPM features giant headlines about Solyndra, while completely ignoring the actual timeline from the previous Bush administration (http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/09/13/317594/timeline-bush-administration-solyndra-loan-guarantee/) then what hope do Democrats have of passing good legislation?

  • Taobhan on September 17, 2011 4:22 PM:

    @Steve Benen: "On the one hand, they want to undercut the president, reject his relatively popular plan, undermine public confidence in political institutions, and hold the economy back until 2013."

    One needs to be very careful about one wishes for because one may get it to one's regret. If the GOP is successful in keeping the economy in the dumper long enough to deny Obama another term, they may find the economy is no friendlier to them than it has been to Obama. Given the Republicans' ineptness at actually governing, they may crater the damned thing. While I think they really don't care what happens to the average American, the electorate may care. But given the way the game seems to be rigged in their favor, the GOP may never get the blame for crashing the economy and the American middle class along with it.

  • rbe1 on September 17, 2011 4:49 PM:

    The republicans will win even if the economy is unrecoverable after they win the white house, for the simple reason that only the economy which represents working people will be unrecoverable. The other economy, that of the investor class, will be fine, so the republicans will have nothing to worry about.

  • Doug on September 17, 2011 5:08 PM:

    As there is something in this proposal for BOTH sides; tax reduction for Republicans, infrastructure spending for the intelligent, President Obama and ALL Democrats on Capitol Hill should back the proposal as a single piece of legislation.
    As best as I can tell, the greatest obstacle to the proposed AJA may be Boehner's fear of splitting his caucus. The Teabaggers constitute 1/3 of the Republican caucus, but because of their influence, real or imagined, in local Republican organizations, they wield greater influence than their numbers warrant. Given their druthers, I don't doubt that most, if not all, the remainder of the Republican caucus, including the Speaker, would vote for the entire AJA, but the in-fighting would seriously damage the perception of a unified Republican Party. Not to mention Boehner's hold on the Speakership.
    THAT is what the Democrats should work on; not necessarily on splitting the Republican caucus*, but on positioning Boehner and the Republican/Teabaggers so THEY are the ones who, should it occur, pull the plug on the AJA and NOT the President and the Democrats. The AJA was proposed as a package, has been promoted as a package, and should be passed as a package. Although I have no doubts the Republican/Teabaggers will do their utmost to pick-and-choose among the parts of the AJA, the temptation to accept what we can get should, I think, be fought this time.
    Failure to pass the proposed legislation won't damage the economy. Failure to pass the legislation in toto, or only passing those parts acceptable to Republican/Teabaggers, may seriously damage Democratic prospects in 2012. That's damage the country can't risk now.
    NO to "a la carte"!

    *Serendipitous events to our advantage will be gratefully accepted, of course.

  • The Electorate on September 17, 2011 5:18 PM:

    While I think they really don't care what happens to the average American, the electorate may care...

    We don't, not so long as we know someone else, whom we don't know, and don't like, and who doesn't sound like us or look like us, or pray like us, or pray at all, gets it first and worst, you can do whatever the hell you want.

    Oh, and get that awful Negro out of the White House, OK?


  • Anonymous on September 17, 2011 5:35 PM:

    Hey sysprog, I live in Santa Rosa, CA. I work in the biggest bike shop in town. We, the cycling community do fund bike parking, lanes. But guess what? our newly elected "business" city council just dismantled plans to build our voter approved bike bridge, and bike blvd.

    Who are you when you say "we"? "The computer nerd totally fund this stuff"
    no they don't, there are not bike paths everywhere. You know of a bike-only freeway in California? That stretches from either end of the state? when was this built? I must have my head up my ass because I have never heard of such a thing, but hey you obviously got you finger on that bike-commuter pulse, eh?

    So stop spreading lies and propaganda about things you know nothing about.

  • The Oracle on September 17, 2011 6:33 PM:

    Years ago in Monty Python's Michael Palin's "Pole to Pole" trek series, he came across a guy in East Africa standing beside the one dirt road open along their north-south travel route. This entrepreneurial guy had a shovel and bucket of dirt. Travelers along this road would pay this guy a few cents to fill in potholes.

    So, why can't this work in America? /snark

    We've got as much entrepreneurial spirit as that East African guy.

    Unemployed people with shovels and buckets of dirt/hot tar could stand beside roads in and between neighborhoods (or alongside super-highways), people who'd fill in potholes for a buck. And similarly, they could stand next to bridges with welding equipment strapped to their backs, along with shovels and buckets of dirt/hot tar, offering to repair our nation's bridges for a few bucks. Or maybe the unemployed could be paid a few bucks to walk behind Republicans with their shovels and buckets?

    Aw, c'mon, where Republicans are concerned, you've first got to think small before you can think big, er, or maybe that's just think small for a Republican.

  • DBLS on September 18, 2011 1:39 AM:

    I don't get this: How does increasing taxes on X and giving the money to Y "stimulate" the economy? I thought the point of Keynesian stimulus was the multiplier effect; if the government borrowed money during a downturn and spent it, that spending would trigger additional spending. But if you are financing the spending package with an increase in taxes, won't there be a decrease in economic activity elsewhere in the economy that balances out the increase from the government spending? How does this make sense as Keynesian stimulus? If it's not Keynsian stimulus, what is it?

  • mmm on September 18, 2011 1:43 AM:

    And thank you, CBS news, for promoting the Republican agenda by running 2 stories in a row about:
    The President's falling poll numbers, the lack of support for the Jobs Bill, and how even "many" Democrats couldn't support it. In fact, the 2nd story even had SOME OF THE SAME WORDING AS THE FIRST! Are they using tape loops now, thinking we wouldn't notice? Jeez.

  • sapient on September 18, 2011 7:48 AM:

    "But if you are financing the spending package with an increase in taxes, won't there be a decrease in economic activity elsewhere in the economy that balances out the increase from the government spending? How does this make sense as Keynesian stimulus? If it's not Keynsian stimulus, what is it?"

    Umm, no. Some people have so much money that they only use a small percentage of it to spend on goods and services ("demand"). Most of their money is sitting in a bank account. If you take some of this money and give it to people who will pay for goods and services they "demand", the money will be spent back into the economy for goods and services.

  • Maddies_Mom on September 18, 2011 12:16 PM:

    Thank you sapient, you are correct.

  • Mike Lamb on September 18, 2011 2:05 PM:

    Anonymous--I'm a cyclist myself and would love more investments in bike lanes and such. Having said that, is there anywhere in the world that has a "bike only freeway" of any significance, much less one that runs 800 miles or so? I'm sincerely asking, because that sounds like an unreasonable request to me.

  • Joshua Gamen on September 19, 2011 1:50 AM: