Same As It Ever Was

Obama revives failed economic policies after bad week

June 11, 2012

President Barack Obama, coming off a week filled with bad news, has returned to a familiar tactic: Blame Congress and others for the struggling economy.

As White House press secretary Jay Carney relayed on Twitter, the president is urging Congress to "stop dithering and pass the rest of his American Jobs Act—to put more than 1 million back to work."

"The other side is not going to provide new ideas," Obama said at a fundraising event in Los Angeles on Thursday.

"Instead of just talking about job creators, Congress should put their money where their mouth is," he said hours later in Las Vegas.

Yet critics say the American Jobs Act, which Obama introduced in September, offers little in terms of "new ideas."

The bill is a rehash of the $825 billion stimulus package of 2009 that a majority of Americans believe did little to help the economy.

"Calling it a ‘jobs act’ doesn't make it so," Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) told the Washington Free Beacon. "What it is, is another budget buster. We only need to look to Europe to see how effective deficit spending is."

"It is just more stimulus," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "If Obama was honest and said ‘I want to do that again,’ people would laugh. That’s why he’s calling it a ‘jobs bill’ this time."

The legislation, portions of which Congress has already passed, proposes to spend $450 billion in one year, making it more expensive in annual terms than the original stimulus, which was allocated over two years.

The bill calls for a variety of new spending measures, such as $50 billion for transportation projects—including $4 billion for high-speed rail and $105 million for the "Puerto Rico highway program"—$35 billion for state and local government employees, $15 billion for construction projects, and $25 billion to modernize public schools with green technology.

President Obama has urged Congress to "get to work" and pass his jobs plan now, but it is unlikely that his bill could get even a simple majority of votes in the Democratic-led Senate.

The measure has already been defeated in the Senate with bipartisan opposition.

Two Democrats joined Republican Senators to end debate on the American Jobs Act (AJA) in October 2011, while three others who voted yes on the procedural motion indicated they would oppose final passage of the bill. If those numbers held today, the bill would fail 48-51.

Even specific elements of the AJA, such as a hiring tax credit for employers, have been routinely dismissed by lawmakers from both parties as "unlikely to be effective," in the words of Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.).

The Republican House has no plans to vote on the AJA, but has passed dozens of jobs-related measures that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has refused to take up.

Senate Democrats have also refused to pass a budget resolution in more than three years, and have unanimously rejected President Obama’s budgets two years in a row.

"We keep being told we need to compromise," Sen. Johnson said. "Compromise with what? The House passed a budget, we voted for it and are willing to be held accountable. The president needs to compromise with members of his own party, who are running the Senate."

"If President Obama wants to be credible in his calls for Congressional action, then he ought to demand that his own Senate majority offer up a budget plan for the first time in three years," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) said in a statement.

Since the introduction of the AJA Obama and his supporters have argued that passing the bill would create millions of jobs. "Independent economists—not me, but folks who study this stuff for a living—say [the AJA] could have put over a million more people to work," Obama said Thursday.

The president may have been referring to an independent analysis by the economic forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers, which found the AJA "would give a significant boost to GDP and employment over the near-term."

As the Free Beacon reported in April, however, Macroeconomic Advisers is run by long-time Democrat and prominent hedge fund adviser Laurence Meyer, who has donated thousands of dollars to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

In addition to advising "major financial firms and central banks," Macroeconomic Advisers provides economic forecasting data for the ADP National Employment Report, which typically releases its projections ahead of the official report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Investors typically watch the ADP report for a "sneak peak" of what to expect from the BLS, despite the firm’s history of inflating employment data.

ADP’s most recent projection—that the U.S. economy had added 133,000 new jobs in May—was nearly twice as much as the actual BLS number of 69,000 jobs.

The weak jobs report was the backdrop for a presidential gaffe on Friday when Obama told reporters "the private sector is doing fine," before going on to advocate increased federal funding for public sector employees.

The president’s latest maneuvering is indicative of a candidate who has run out of options, said Jay Cost, a political analyst and author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic.

By reviving the AJA, blaming Congress, and holding a hastily arranged press conference on Friday to discuss the economy, Cost said, Obama was simply trying to "staunch the bleeding" from a bad week that included a blistering critique from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, a series of gaffes from surrogate Bill Clinton, and a defeat for Democrats in Wisconsin.

He is also trying to calm dissention within the liberal base.

"I think the campaign saw Maureen Dowd’s column and the union anger that Obama didn’t get more involved in Wisconsin as warning sign," Cost told the Free Beacon. "They said, ‘Oh crap, we can’t have these people walking away from us.’ The American Jobs Act is an effort to satisfy these groups, pumping money into infrastructure and state governments, that’s what liberals want."

Liberal columnist Jonathan Alter suggested that Obama should emulate the "bold, persistent experimentation" of Franklin D. Roosevelt by spending massively.

"Direct government hiring of able-bodied adults, out of fashion since the Depression, also deserves a fresh look," he wrote. "If the private sector isn’t producing enough new jobs, the public sector must step in."

The president has "got to be aggressive," complained MSNBC host Chris Matthews. "He’s got to be big time. Stop this nickel and dime, a couple of bucks for the teachers, a couple of bucks for the firefighters. 'I'm going to reduce the payroll tax.' This is pissant."

However, such "bold," "big time" spending policies are unpopular with the public. An Ipsos/Reuters poll taken in November 2011 found that 62 percent of Americans—and 45 percent of Democrats—believe that the stimulus bills passed in the first two years of Obama’s term have "just created debt" rather than helped the economy.

Even President Obama has been forced to acknowledge "there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects," despite basing his entire case for the stimulus package on this assumption.

Prominent pollsters have told the Free Beacon the idea of government spending to boost the economy is not a winner with independent voters.

"This is a winner with the left, not a winner with the center of the country," Cost said. "It looks like Obama’s game plan is to hold his core 45 percent of Democratic voters, and cross his fingers that the economy is healthy enough in November to get over to 50 percent."

That the president is forced to rely on such a strategy is indicative of his inability to lead, Grover Norquist said. "He was a great candidate, not a very good president, now he’s gone back to being a candidate again," he said. "He hasn’t learned anything. The stimulus, it failed, and now he wants to do it again."

"We’re facing some serious economic and fiscal issues, and we really can't accomplish what we need to accomplish without strong presidential leadership," said Sen. Johnson. "We need a real leader and we don't have one."