Washington Matters


Obama Fights to Save a Job -- His Own

David Morris

Republicans, sensing a chance to oust a weakened incumbent, will block key parts of the president’s jobs plan.



Don’t let Washington’s focus on employment fool you. The efforts from both sides of the aisle are really concentrating on a single job — the one held by President Obama.

SEE ALSO: Our Outlook for Business Costs in 2012

In theory, Obama’s jobs plan sounds like a good thing for the sluggish economy. Put money in people’s pockets by extending the Social Security payroll tax cut and they’ll start buying more stuff. Cut the payroll tax for businesses, too, throw in some other incentives, and firms will hire people now to make the stuff that eventually will start to fly off the shelves. For good measure, add infrastructure funds that will nudge construction firms to hire more folks to fix all those roads and bridges that were left in disrepair during the recession.

In reality, though, the plan is just a Band-Aid on a gaping wound, and is likely to create relatively few jobs.

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For starters, Republicans are wary of the $447 billion price tag attached to Obama’s plan, just as they’re skeptical of stimulus spending in general. At a time when the special deficit panel is trying to identify about $1.5 trillion in cuts or new revenues, the president’s against-the-grain proposal will embolden some in the GOP to start chopping.

Look for Republicans to block much of the infrastructure spending plan, even though repair projects back home might help some GOP lawmakers facing tough reelection fights next year. They’ll use the size of the overall bill to portray Obama as disinterested in trimming the deficit.

Still, Obama will get his way on some big parts of his offering, including the payroll tax cuts for both employers and employees and, most likely, extended unemployment benefits for those who are having trouble finding new jobs. With every House seat on the 2012 ballot, many Republicans will be reluctant to block an effort to give people more money, lest they find themselves looking for work after November.

There is little risk here for Obama. He gets to take credit for trying to create jobs — road and bridge projects do boost employment — and for temporarily extending the tax cuts. And if the GOP digs in and blocks more of his plan, he can say he tried to fix the economy but was blocked by what he will call the Party of No. And if it backfires, well, his numbers can’t get much worse than they are.

But there’s potentially little upside for the president, either. Cutting the Social Security payroll tax and other breaks for companies that add employees will create some jobs. But not enough. Recent job growth has fallen far short of the 100,000 positions needed each month just to match the country’s growing population. Not even Obama’s entire package could close that gap.

So the unemployment rate, at 9.1 percent, is likely to stay high into next spring, when voters will start paying more attention to the presidential election.

Obama’s own job is on the line and Republicans know it. If the economy starts to turn, Obama can point back to last week’s jobs speech and say he got things started. But without improvement, he might join Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush as sitting presidents done in by the economy over the last 80 years.

How the jobs fight plays out over the next six months will go a long way in determining whether the 2012 list of those without jobs increases by one.



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