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On the road to job recovery?

3Qs with William Crotty, the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life
September 9th, 2011

Addressing both houses of Con­gress on Thursday night, Pres­i­dent Obama intro­duced the “Amer­ican Jobs Act,” a plan to help stim­u­late the trou­bled U.S. economy and encourage job cre­ation. Obama urged Con­gress to act quickly to pass the bill and made an effort to include pro­grams that have been sup­ported by both par­ties. We asked William Crotty, the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life and pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence, to pro­vide his per­spec­tive on the jobs plan and what role pol­i­tics might play in its suc­cess or failure.

Obama emphasized that the ideas he presented in the American Jobs Act are concepts that have been supported by both parties. Do you agree? Will Obama’s strategy minimize push back from the Republican Party?

The jobs stim­ulus pro­posals made by Pres­i­dent Obama are ideas that have been at var­ious times sup­ported by one or both polit­ical par­ties. Despite this fact, it will not help to min­i­mize the oppo­si­tion to the enact­ment of the plan. Wash­ington is too polar­ized for that. In his speech, Pres­i­dent Obama made a sig­nif­i­cant effort to pro­pose ideas that have often been favored Repub­lican programs.

Overall, the con­sensus is that the Amer­ican Jobs Act is a modest series of pro­posals likely to be of some ben­efit, but not to make a serious dent in the unem­ploy­ment problem. Under the pro­posed plan, the gov­ern­ment is expected to lose about $240 bil­lion in tax rev­enues for the coming year. The con­tinued cut­ting of fed­eral rev­enues may have a modest impact on jobs, if any, but it raises con­cerns about the direc­tion the admin­is­tra­tion is going in attempting to get the Repub­lican House to endorse an eco­nomic stim­ulus package. Com­bined with the promises made to cut ben­e­fits (Medicare, Med­icaid and Social Secu­rity), fun­da­mental issues under­lying the social wel­fare state are being raised as to the role of gov­ern­ment and its ability to ser­vice public needs.

All in all, the plan will be open to the par­tisan divide that has char­ac­ter­ized Wash­ington during the Obama years.

What are the political stakes for President Obama as he hits the road to sell his jobs plan to the American public, and will his pitch ultimately determine whether he or Congress is blamed should high unemployment continue?

Pres­i­dent Obama’s promise to bypass Con­gress and take his pro­posals to the country could be effec­tive if he were able to recap­ture the dynamism that char­ac­ter­ized his 2008 cam­paign. This is most unlikely. It is a dif­fi­cult sell to moti­vate people to con­tact their con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the strength needed to actu­ally enact a pro­gram. Pres­i­dent Obama has com­mitted to this strategy a number of times before. Results have been spo­radic. There is a serious ques­tion as to whether he will actu­ally stay the course, given his past record. There is also a ques­tion as to whether the Tea Party/​Conservative Repub­li­cans would respond to such public pres­sure. They have made the point repeat­edly that they are com­mitted to an eco­nomic ide­ology regard­less of the shifts in public opinion and one that they believe is crit­ical to saving the nation.

What impact do you expect Obama’s job act will have on the 2012 election?

I see this as part of the elec­tion process, and it is best under­stood in this con­text. The pres­i­dent wants to appear com­mitted to increasing employ­ment and dealing with the economy. He and the Democ­rats also would like to put the Repub­li­cans in Con­gress on the defen­sive, to be seen as the basic obstacle to an improved eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion. The White House has indi­cated it believes it has hit on a win-​​win strategy. If the president’s pro­gram is enacted and unem­ploy­ment reduced sig­nif­i­cantly, both of which are unlikely, he will take the credit. If the plan fails, he and the Democ­rats will blame the obstruc­tionism of Repub­li­cans in Congress.

- by Lauren Dibble


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