If non sequiturs could create jobs, an economic boom would soon be upon us. Trying to sell Congress on his jobs agenda before the NFL season's opening kickoff, President Obama uncorked a combative stemwinder filled with odd inferences and false choices.
"Sell" might be an inapt word. The president repeatedly demanded that Congress heed his will on the grandly named American Jobs Act: "You should pass it right away." In this Capitol Hill campaign rally, Obama rather transparently dared Republicans to reject his proposal so he can run against them as a "Do Nothing Congress" next year.
By one estimate, the stimulus package's Mini Me consists of $260 billion in tax cuts, $140 billion in new infrastructure spending, and $60 billion in additional unemployment insurance. The president wants us to hire teachers like South Korea, build high-speed rail like Communist China, and party like it's 1999."Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires?" Obama asked. "Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs?"
So on the one hand, the plan cuts taxes. There is payroll tax relief and tax credits for creating new jobs. But this is to be paid for by raising taxes on oil companies and Americans greedy enough to earn more than $250,000 a year, presumably on the grounds that neither of these tax hike targets ever create jobs.
Fear not, this bill is paid for. You know, with these tax increases. And with extra spending cuts to be determined by Congress and the super committeee. And with a This Time We Mean It deficit reduction plan, to be introduced later.
"The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next ten years," Obama said. "It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I'm asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act."
A bit later we heard: "[A] week from Monday, I'll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan -- a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run."
This is not to say that every jot and tittle of the proposal would be bad. The House Republican leadership was quick to put out statements saying they could pass parts of it. But as a whole, it lacks coherence. For Keynesians, why balance the new stimulus with additional deficit reduction? For supply-siders, why hand out internal revenue code-complicating tax breaks while jacking up some taxpayers' marginal rates?
We arrive at this destination because Recovery Summer did not materialize and shovel-ready was, as the president later admitted, not so shovel-ready. The unemployment rate that was never supposed to exceed 8.5 percent broke 10 percent and remains at 9.1 percent. The 3.5 million jobs created or saved in theory was met by a loss of jobs in practice. And what happens when the stimulus funds run out?
The politics are as tenuous as the economics. Overpromising yet under-delivering has hurt Obama politically. So this time he seems to want to overpromise and then let the Republicans under-deliver.
But Obama isn't a candidate running to replace George W. Bush anymore. He is the incumbent president of the United States. If Washington is broken, the American people have a right to ask why he hasn't fixed it. If the two parties can't work together, Obama is not merely floating above the fracas like a neutral observer. He is the titular head of one of those two parties. If Congress has waited too long to address the jobs crisis, then so has the fellow living in the fancy white house on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Liberals are happy to see the president get angry. They are pleased he is talking about jobs rather than "austerity." But man cannot win by liberals alone. Obama has always given a good speech about the brokenness of our politics. Now that he is the country's most famous politician, is the country still listening?
After all, the president didn't seem eager to try his odds in a time slot against Aaron Rodgers.
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