Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

« Previous Post | Opinion L.A. Home | Next Post »

Campaign 2012: On the stump for the Obama jobs bill

October 17, 2011 | 12:17 pm

President Obama speaks at Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina
For a first-term president, what's the dividing line between leading and campaigning? Or has the endless campaign cycle obliterated it?

I wondered about this when I read the transcript for President Obama's speech Monday in Asheville, N.C., where he was ostensibly trying to build public support for his jobs bill, the American Jobs Act. During the speech, Obama noted that Senate Republicans had blocked the bill (after Democrats had blocked it, but the president overlooked that little detail) and were now pushing their own package, informally dubbed the "Real American Jobs Act."

(Forgive me for digressing, but were the people who came up with that appellation trying to invoke anti-immigrant sentiments? The actual title -- the "Jobs Through Growth Act" -- is not just perfectly serviceable, it also tips people off that the plan promises little help in the short term.)

Anyway, Obama started comparing the elements of the two plans, and not surprisingly the results were none too favorable to his rivals. Here's the (unedited) portion of the transcript that caught my eye:

So remember those independent economists who said our plan would create jobs, maybe as many as almost 2 million jobs, grow the economy by as much as 2 percent?  So one of the same economists that took a look at our plan took a look at the Republican plan, and they said, well, this won't do much to help the economy in the short term -- it could actually cost us jobs.  We could actually lose jobs with their plan. 

So I'll let you decide which plan is the real American Jobs Act.  (Applause.) 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Obama's plan!

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, I appreciate the “four more years,” but right now I’m thinking about the next 13 months.  (Applause.)  Because, yes, we've got an election coming up, but that election is a long ways away, and a lot of folks can't wait.

Republicans berated Obama for giving speeches around the country in support of his jobs bill, accusing him (as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia put it) of going into "full campaign mode." It sure sounds like a stump speech when the president beats the drum for the tax increases he wants to impose on higher-income Americans to pay for the jobs bill. Given the GOP control of the House, there's no conceivable way that those tax increases will become law.

On the other hand, the way presidents lead is by rallying the public behind their initiatives. Obama can't control Congress; he can only hope that pressure from the public will persuade lawmakers to do at least some of what he asks.

What he's doing now on the jobs bill looks more like leadership than what he did on, say, healthcare reform. There, Obama counted on Democratic majorities in Congress to pass a complex bill over united Republican opposition without first winning the public's support for the major pieces. One speech to a joint session of Congress is not enough to build consensus.

I'm not a huge fan of Obama's bill -- I'd like to see more infrastructure spending, for example, and I don't think offering employers temporary tax credits for new hires will lead them to expand any faster than already planned. But I like the fact that he's putting pressure on Congress to address the unemployment problem.

I'm not at all convinced that the GOP proposals would magically kick-start the economy either, but it's a debate worth having. In fact, it's the only debate worth having. And if it takes a bus tour or three by the president to get that conversation going on Capitol Hill, so be it.

-- Jon Healey

Credit:  Susan Walsh / Associated Press

Comments ()