Overlooked in the aftermath of the "fiscal cliff" deal and the questions about what spending cuts may be around the corner, was this part of President's Obama statement following the bill's passage:
I think we all recognize this law is just one step in the broader effort to strengthen our economy and broaden opportunity for everybody...
...we're still investing too little in the things that we need for the economy to grow as fast as it should.
And that's why Speaker Boehner and I originally tried to negotiate a larger agreement that would put this country on a path to paying down its debt while also putting Americans back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges, and providing investments in areas like education and job training.
Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough support or time for that kind of large agreement in a lame duck session of Congress.
These should not be seen as idle words, but a clear marker for Republicans to heed and a target for the public to rally around. The next budget debate should not be all about what to cut when the economy still needs help and the unemployed still suffer from a dearth of job openings.
Thanks to the 2009 Recovery Act and the stimulus measures in the 2010 tax cut deal, we prevented a global depression and helped our economy slowly heal from the 2008 crash. But we can and should do better than a slow heal.
Part of the President's initial offer to the House Republicans that got shelved as focus turned to a smaller compromise included "$50 billion stimulus package in FY13" and a "Mass refi mortgage proposal".
Presumably these proposals will return in short order. An under-appreciated fact about Obama's past bipartisan agreements is that he never allows an imperfect deal to foreclose his future options. In December 2010, during the negotiations over the expiring Bush tax cuts the President rejected an appeal from Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer to give up the $250K threshold for higher rates and accept $1M, because that would mean never being able to secure revenue below that point. Better to punt the whole issue for two years and wait until he had a stronger mandate. Similar logic shaped the 2011 debt limit deal which manufactured the whole "fiscal cliff," logic that has borne out so far.
Nevertheless, progressives in Congress should further push the envelope. The American Society of Civil Engineers says we need to invest more than $400 billion a year for five years just to repair our infrastructure. Some legislative language to that end would help drive the debate.
The additional money would not need to all come from our government. Don't forget that in 2011 there was a bipartisan bill, backed by both the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for an "infrastructure bank" that could attract $60 billion a year of private investment with just $10 billion of federal loans.
In 2011, a Republican Party hell-bent on defeating Obama would not give such a proposal a moment of consideration, despite its bipartisan origin. But as we just saw, with Obama not on the ballot any more, the Republican appetite for legislative and economic sabotage has dwindled.
Separately, there has been simmering discussion of putting a "carbon tax" in the mix of any bipartisan talks on broad tax reform, an idea that has received some flickers of conservative support in the recent past. A left-right coalition around a carbon tax has been meeting off Capitol Hill, and the White House has said it would consider a carbon tax if Republicans took the lead.
Just having a price on carbon emissions, ending the advantage we give fossil fuel companies to pollute the atmosphere for free, would be a boon to the growing clean energy industry. And if part of the proceeds were invested in clean energy jobs (as opposed to every dollar dedicated to deficit reduction) the boon would be bigger and faster.
These are just a few ideas for how we get jobs back on the Washington agenda. The important thing is to put our energies toward keeping the focus on jobs and making sure the next debate is not artificially narrowed to the detriment of the economy.