Message To Obama No Half-Measures On Jobs

Isaiah J. Poole

Today 68 major progressive organizations have sent a letter to President Obama urging him to present a "big, bold" jobs program to the nation in his anticipated post-Labor Day address.

Some of the organizations signing the letter, while praising the President for his return to an emphasis on jobs, are concerned that Obama’s plan may not be large enough to convince the nation that he is truly serious about down the unemployment that has trapped millions of families – especially if he limits his proposals to what is acceptable to hostile Republicans in the Congress. They also express concern that the President’s intention to give equal weight to deficit reduction in his speech – along with the new “Super Committee’s” focus on deficits – will inevitably undermine whatever initial momentum the speech may create for job creation. A problem this serious needs a plan to match it in scope.

"Tax cuts and incentives for corporations have repeatedly failed to put Americans back to work," the letter says. "It is time to move beyond these half-measures designed to appeal to a narrow ideological minority who have repeatedly shown their unwillingness to negotiate and their disinterest in real solutions. History—and proven economics—tells us that any plan to solve our job crisis needs to be big, bold, and create jobs directly."

An example of the kind of remedy that these organizations are expecting the president to embrace is the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky. That legislation would commit $227 billion over two years in projects that would create a total of 2.2 million jobs. The projects would range from public school rehabilitation to energy conservation.

“This letter to the President reflects the growing concern of a majority of Americans that unemployment is at crisis levels" says Campaign for America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey in a statement today. "We want a jobs program that does not just tinker around the edges.  And we want the President to present a plan next week that is big and bold enough to actually reverse our economic decline and put people to work – even if such a program can’t succeed until a new Congress is elected.  If the President is bold, he will help get America a Congress that will actually act to create jobs and rebuild the American Dream.”

The effort by these progressive organizations to push President Obama to announce and fight for a bold jobs program, pushing beyond the boundaries of what is perceived to be politically possible, is getting some new, sharp criticism from commentators such as Jonathan Chait, who wrote in The New Republic today that the effort by centrist Democrats and progressives to influence the president’s jobs speech "is being conducted between two sides that totally misunderstand its purpose."

To progressives, Chait writes:

… the plan does need to be somewhat big — anything that’s too small will transparently be seen as insufficient to the scale of the disaster. On the other hand, it needs to grapple with the reality that most Americans don’t support the kinds of economic stimulus that economists think we need. Now, if Obama potentially had the votes in Congress to pass another stimulus, it would be worth taking an unpopular vote in order to rescue the economy. Since Obama does not and will not have those votes, he needs to conceive of his plan as a political message. There is no point in holding a message vote when the message is unpopular.

This seems to be a reality liberals have trouble acknowledging.

Actually, "liberals" and progressives are fully aware of the headwinds, but the kind of bold steps that we are advocating are not as unpopular as Chait presents them. As part of our American Majority project, we’ve identified a number of polls that show significant support for federal spending to put people back to work.

But it is undeniable that the conservative narrative that the government can’t do anything and shouldn’t do anything to put people back to work—that we have to be at the tender mercies of mythical "job creators" who have up now shown scant interest in investing in America and its workers—has been allowed to dominate the economic debate. And this is where President Obama can be part of the solution. Chait concedes that "public opinion is fairly hazy and ill-informed" about the short-term measures the government should take to get the economy moving, and Obama should be devoting the next few months changing that, drawing the contrast between a positive, pro-growth agenda and a conservative agenda that puts middle- and working-class America on an austerity diet while protecting millionaires and billionaires from any obligation to help rebuild a broadly prosperous economy.

The coalition letter notes that more than 130,000 Americans participated in the writing of the Contract for the American Dream, which supports "investing in American infrastructure, education, green technology, and healthcare; a return to fairer tax rates; ensuring that workers have living wages and the right to organize; and keeping our democracy accountable and responsive to the American people."

"At this pivotal moment for our nation, we need you to present a vision based on these principles," the letter concludes.

When on Friday the nation receives another unemployment report that shows a sluggish-at-best economy not producing enough jobs to give hope to the nearly 15 million Americans who do not have a job, President Obama will be harshly judged if he does not display the courage to present a solution that matches the severity of the crisis.

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