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September 09, 2011 8:05 AM The American Jobs Act is up to the task

By Steve Benen

When a president delivers a major address to a joint session of Congress, it’s easy to focus, at least first, on the style — the quality of the speech, the spectacle, and the drama. But as the applause fades, what’s left is the underlying policy, which warrants a more sober look.

With this in mind, President Obama presented his American Jobs Act to Congress last night and, to my ear, delivered an excellent speech. But is the plan as good as the address? Fortunately, yes.

Paul Krugman noted in his column that the plan is “significantly bolder and better than I expected,” and would likely “make a significant dent in unemployment” if it were to somehow pass.

There’s only so many details a president is going to share in a speech, but the White House released a fact sheet that sketches out the various measures of the proposal, and how much it would cost. Here’s some of the highlights:

* Payroll tax breaks for workers and employers

* Tax credit for hiring unemployed veterans

* A major aid package to state and local governments, preventing 280,000 public-sector layoffs (teachers, firefighters, police officers)

* Modernizing 35,000 schools (FAST Act)

* Sizable infrastructure investments in roads, rail, airports and waterways

* Extended unemployment benefits and new approaches to unemployment insurance, including work-sharing and “Bridge to Work”

Reports earlier this week that the plan would roughly total $300 billion were wrong, or at a minimum, part of a deliberate effort to lower expectations. According to White House materials, the American Jobs Act is actually a $447 billion economic package.

As Harold Meyerson noted last night, “When word started getting around this afternoon that this new stimulus would be set at $447 billion for the next year — a rate higher than the $787-billion-over-two-years stimulus that Congress enacted in 2009 — leaders of groups representing the Democratic base breathed a sigh of relief. The size and the substance of this new stimulus give Obama and his party the ability not only to rally many of his disenchanted core supporters but to reach out to voters in the middle of the political spectrum.”

We’ll get into the politics — obviously, a good plan that sits on a shelf gathering dust doesn’t much matter — but for now, the White House deserves credit for crafting an ambitious, worthwhile, and effective economic package. Many observers, including me, hoped desperately President Obama and his team would aim high and resist the urge to make preemptive concessions. They did — this is a credible, progressive approach to boosting the economy.

The White House has an incredible challenge ahead, but at least the first step was a bold one.

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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  • j on September 09, 2011 8:08 AM:

    Lat night I saw a president, the night before I saw a bunch of ineffective clowns lined up on a stage.

  • DAY on September 09, 2011 8:14 AM:

    A small gripe; preventing layoffs- the dog that didn't bark. We don't hear about the cop/teacher who did not get fired. And, remember, they are the "government" workers who the Republicans hate. So, let the locals react to 911 calls that go unanswered, the 60 kids per class.
    Better to concentrate on creating new hires, even a CCC/WPA

  • Live Free or Die on September 09, 2011 8:17 AM:

    The speech was good. I would not have talked about the deficit or debt or Medicare at all. I think it should be bigger. But he did say Republican I think, so that is better than before. He has to make sure he does not put Medicare on the block and then have the GOP only focus on that, instead of jobs.

  • c u n d gulag on September 09, 2011 8:17 AM:

    It looks like a good plan, and well delivered by the President.
    It was by far the best political speech of his Presidence, I think.

    And while not exactly a Liberal Keynesian barbaric yawp, it was far from the Austrian austerity so beloved of Conservatives.
    It's kind of an 'end-around' stimulus.

    I'm a bit concerned about the Medicare and Medicaid talks, and he hinted about some 'grand bargain' deficit cuts without being specific, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

    I especially like the tax incentives for the long-term unemployed and veterans.

    I'm glad it's called something simple, like The American Jobs Act, and not some typically wonky Democratic title.
    I wouldn't have minded, though, if it was called "The Total Employment Act" (TEA), just to f*ck with the Birchers and morons.

    And it pissed off the Republicans, so how bad can it be?
    Everytime the camera turned to them, Kyl and McConnell looked as if they had exchanged turds and swallowed them - and Boehner looked like he was part of the turd-exchange-swallow deal with them.
    Cantor looked as if he's just undergone a really rough enema.

    ME LIKEY
    Of course, the Devils' in the detail.

  • Live Free or Die on September 09, 2011 8:25 AM:

    Now part II to this speech has to be about not caving and sticking to the vision.

  • martin on September 09, 2011 8:31 AM:

    Now let us fight for it.

    Having a Young Gun as a Representative and two of the worst Senators in the Senate (Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions), I'm not sure what I can do to get this passed, but it is up to the Dems to put a a fight.

    neffas epilogue as Mr Captcha says

  • Danp on September 09, 2011 8:31 AM:

    By not calling out Republicans for blocking appointments and defunding regulatory agencies, Obama continues to make it easy to make vague and insincere counterarguments.

    The Warren Buffet mention was good, but he could have done much more to show the inequality caused by tax code and laws that favor megacorporations over small businesses. He should have also done much more to argue that the wealthy do not create jobs; they create financial bubbles. An economy based on the financial industry alone is not sustainable. And education must be a means to new forms of production. This isn't just about creating temporary stimulus. It's about ensuring the continuation of a middle class. It that's class warfare, bring 'em on!

  • SW on September 09, 2011 8:39 AM:

    A good start to the first half of the trap. Now he has to go after the bastards who will do anything to prevent this economy from recovering.

  • Slader on September 09, 2011 8:40 AM:

    A couple days ago John Nichols wrote a piece called "Obama Will Have to Give a Hell of a Speech"

    I think he did, and I hope Nichols acknowledges it.

    Can anyone imagine any of the GOP candidates giving a speech with that level of clarity, content and passion? Hope for 2012 springs eternal.

  • Kid Curve on September 09, 2011 8:43 AM:

    I like the fight I saw in the President.

    I'm mostly optimistic about what I heard.

    "The American Jobs Act" is catchy, but I'm all for calling it "Obama Cares". It will subvert the nonsense we've heard from the right, and will highlight that at least somebody cares about Americans.

  • berttheclock on September 09, 2011 8:43 AM:

    Yes, once again, President Obama rose to the occasion and gave a great speech and his Choir was well pleased. But, far more average voters will remember the great night by Aaron Rodgers and the strong comeback attempt by Drew Brees than anything said by Obama, last night.

    However, it does set the tone for the upcoming election of Government can make a positive difference in your life or No, it can't.

  • walt on September 09, 2011 8:45 AM:

    The tone was good, and if an indication of aggressive Obama, possibly redemptive. But there's no reason to get lost in the details of his plan, which are DOA in today's Congress.

    For those of us who courted the charge of disloyalty for saying obvious things about Obama's character and political malpractice, this is gratifying. We don't know, of course, if Obama will stay tough, or ideally, get tougher. We fear his instincts for preemptive capitulation is innate rather than simply the preening of a post-partisan conciliation head trip. We'll soon find out. I think it's probably too late to save his presidency but if Obama can channel his inner Truman, he might at least save liberalism itself. Give 'em hell, Barack.

  • max on September 09, 2011 8:49 AM:

    My Senators will vote for this plan but my House Representative will not - I live in a redneck insurrectionist county in a blue state. My sense is this is a win-win for the President. If the plan is not passed in some fashion - likely - then Independents like me will be more inclined to write off the GOP completely and donate more to the Dems. If parts of it are passed, I will still donate to the Dems, especially after after watching that dreary GOP Presidential debate. The GOP has nothing to offer the natiuon but old, failed ideas from the George W. Bush Disaster.

  • Anonymous on September 09, 2011 8:50 AM:

    Danp:

    "By not calling out Republicans for blocking appointments and defunding regulatory agencies, Obama continues to make it easy to make vague and insincere counterarguments."

    I disagree. He should have stayed focused on jobs and not talk anything else. But as long as Obama stays focused and not cave, then I wont complain.

  • zandru on September 09, 2011 9:46 AM:

    martin is right on when he sez: "Now let us fight for it."

    As I said in tomorrow's post, we all know what the GOP will say through their Mighty Wurlitzer. We all know what they'll do - or try to do. It's up to "We the People" to push back.

    Danp and others make some excellent points about what the President did NOT say, and should have. WE can say those things. To friends and families, co-workers, other places where we comment (zing the firebaggers and digbaggers, anyone?), newspapers, etc.

    Talk up this plan - or at least the parts you like the best - everywhere you go. Contact your Congressbeings, even if they're Republicans. If they are unfortunate enough to be Republicans, remind them that you're onto the leadership's scheme to tank the country's economy and that their actions will soon convince the rest of the country, too. In other words, their Congressional careers - and influence - are toast.

    Unless they can get with the President's program.

    If you have Democratic representation, tell them to support the program outlined in this speech, and urge them to NOT LET OBAMA NEGOTIATE IT AWAY. Suggest that some hard-ass librul, like Nancy Pelosi, do the heavy lifting. Have the Democratic Congressional leaders tell Mr. Obama that it's inappropriate and insulting for The President to get into the negotiating fray with the Republicans, who diss him every time they can. (No, we changed our mind - Wednesday isn't a good time. Now squeal like a pig, boy!) Let Pelosi do the face to face, backed up by Reid.

    Let's use our superior communication skills to support this basically good idea: The Obama Jobs Program for America.

  • bdop4 on September 09, 2011 10:40 AM:

    I liked the speech a lot better than the plan. UI benefits extension is a must just to keep treading water, while payroll tax benefits to the employed will do very little to help the unemployed. That's the bulk of the plan.

    Direct aid to states and infrastructure provide bang for the buck, but are less than a third of the $447B total. And the much vaunted infrastructure bank? Only $10B allocated to that.

    The tax cuts and UI benefits will pass, but it is unlikely that much of the direct assistance that will really help people will make it through the GOP gauntlet.

    Once again, Obama is counting on shaming repubs into doing the right thing. It hasn't worked before, and I don't think it will happen this time.

    He should have gone much bigger, with a lot more direct assistance to the unemployed.

  • Athena on September 09, 2011 11:20 AM:

    c u n dgulag, your TEA idea is hilarious!

    THIS was the Obama I voted for. He was Trumanesque ("the buck stops here") in that speech. Bring it on.

  • zandru on September 09, 2011 11:24 AM:

    bdop4 concludes "He should have gone much bigger, with a lot more direct assistance to the unemployed."

    Why not tell this to your Congresspersons? Why not get a Democratic Congressional proposal out there into the bill mill which DOES "spend" more, maybe even TAX more? (For example, why starve the Social Security fund? Eliminate the wage ceiling!)

    Why should it be JUST the pre-watered down Obama Jobs for Americans bill versus the Cantor Can't Do Anything "no" vote?

    If you think it's not enough, then get out there and fight for MORE! Show Congress what the American people actually want.

  • bdop4 on September 09, 2011 3:22 PM:

    "If you think it's not enough, then get out there and fight for MORE! Show Congress what the American people actually want." - Zandru

    I called my congresscritters today and told them exactly that. I also regularly support organizations and politicians who feel the same way I do.

    Don't mistake criticism for apathy.

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