WASHINGTON -- It's become almost daily practice for President Barack Obama to point out the four things he says Congress can pass now to create jobs "immediately," if only lawmakers would act: infrastructure investments, patent reform, free trade deals and a payroll tax cut extension.
But even if all four proposals became law -- a huge "if" with a dug-in House GOP -- it's not clear they would actually create jobs. In fact, the proposals with the best shot of passing Congress appear the least likely to create jobs. One of the most likely to pass, the trade pacts, will probably cost jobs.
Obama has been injecting new urgency into the measures since early July, when he spoke during a press conference that coincided with a dismal monthly jobs report.
"There are bills and trade agreements before Congress right now that could get all these ideas moving," he said at the time. "All of them have bipartisan support. All of them could pass immediately. And I urge Congress not to wait."
He ran through all of the proposals again during a Monday town hall in Minnesota, the first of several to come as part of his Midwest bus tour on the economy this week.
"There is no shortage of ideas to put people to work right now," he told the crowd. "What is needed is action on the part of Congress. A willingness to put the partisan games aside and say, 'We're going to do what's right for the country, not what we think is going to score some political points for the next election.'"
Here's an overview of how each proposal would create jobs, or not, and where it stands in Congress.
Obama wants Congress to create a federal infrastructure bank -- that is, a fund stashed with tens of billions of dollars dedicated solely to rebuilding the nation's crumbling roads, bridges and ports. "Right now, there are over a million construction workers out of work after the housing boom went bust, just as a lot of America needs rebuilding," he said during the July press conference. "We connect the two by investing in rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our railways and our infrastructure. And we could put back to work right now some of those construction workers that lost their jobs when the housing market went bust." Of all of Obama's job-creation priorities for Congress, this is the one with the potential to put most people back to work--and fast. But top Democratic and Republican aides concurred that the proposal has next to no prospects in Congress. A House GOP leadership aide put it succinctly: "No money." "It's expensive," said a senior House Democratic aide. "Harder to see us doing anything significant in near term" given the 2009 passage of the $787 billion economic stimulus package. The idea of an infrastructure bank has also raised bipartisan concerns because it would take the decision-making process out of Congress and hand it to the administration. There hasn't been "a clamoring for it" in the Senate, said a Republican leadership aide, because people on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works don't like the idea of handing over their control of highway construction projects to the White House. Image Credit: Getty Images
The president is pressing Congress to streamline the patent process as another way to create jobs. The idea, according to Obama, is that it would give "entrepreneurs the chance to let their job-creating ideas move to market faster." Congressional aides in both parties say the measure has a good shot at landing on the president's desk by the end of September. "It's a big priority for a lot of people, so I think this will happen," said a senior House Democratic aide. The House and Senate have already passed their own versions of the bill, and the Senate is expected to take up and pass the House bill when the Senate comes back into session on Sept. 6. Barring any surprises, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who are overseeing the patent reform measure in the upper chamber, "are ok with moving the House bill, and for now, we're hoping that holds and that we can get something done fairly quickly," said a Senate Democratic leadership aide said. Patent reform's job-creation abilities, however, are largely limited to K Street. Advocates for patent reform have never been particularly concerned with creating jobs or alleviating unemployment, despite what recent rhetoric might suggest. And as HuffPost's Zach Carter reported this month, today's patent bill is less about boosting the economy and more a scorecard tallying points for powerful corporations: a win for pharmaceutical companies whose monopolies are driving up Medicare costs; a win for Wall Street's battle against check-processing patents; a loss for tech giants who had hoped to curb costly lawsuits. "Congress has lost any capacity to piece together these private interests into a public-welfare-promoting change to the patent system," says Christopher Sprigman, an intellectual property expert at the University of Virginia Law School. "It's really not about optimization anymore. It's about which faction is going to win out."
The White House is most vocal about the need for Congress to pass free trade agreements for Panama, Colombia and South Korea. Passage of these deals would "help businesses sell more American-made goods and services to Asia and South America, supporting thousands of jobs here at home," Obama has said. A senior Democratic aide clarified that trade deals "won't create jobs directly," but that it would give a needed boost to the economy "by pressing up on the demand for a broad range of consumer goods." The part you won't hear the White House talking about is the number of Americans who could actually lose their jobs as a result of the deals. Some economists estimate that more than 200,000 American jobs could be shipped overseas as the U.S. looks to its new trade partners to carry out manufacturing work for cheaper rates. For now, the three trade deals remain in a peculiar state of limbo: the White House has yet to formally submit them to Congress, but keeps calling on Congress to pass them. And GOP leaders, who support passage of the deals, keep responding that they can't pass them until the White House sends them over. The sticking point? The White House wants GOP leaders to first agree to attach a Trade Adjustment Assistance plan to the deals. Republicans oppose adding the TAA proposal, which would provide job training to U.S. workers who lose their jobs due to trade. "They added TAA as a precondition a couple months ago; it was never a precondition before then," said a senior GOP aide. But House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently "worked out a compromise and there are at least 60 votes for it (and the White House knows that). It's anyone's guess why they're still holding out." For all the back and forth between the White House and Republican leaders, the three trade deals -- along with some type of deal on TAA -- are expected to come to a vote in September. Image Credit: Getty Images
Obama wants Congress to extend the payroll tax cut for another year--a move that would, in fact, create jobs by making it far less expensive for employers to hire additional workers. It would also boost people's take-home pay, thus increasing spending and employment. "There are a lot of middle-class families who sure could use the security of knowing that the tax cut that I signed in December to help boost the economy and put a thousand dollars in the pockets of American families, that that's still going to be around next year," he said. "That's a change that we could make right now." But its prospects don't look good: The New York Times's John Harwood reported Sunday that a Boehner spokesman said the House has "no plans to take up" the president's job-creation ideas except for patent reform and pending trade deals. Senior Democratic and Republican aides said they expected the issue to be part of the debt deal that passed earlier this month, but it wasn't. It's possible, though not expected, that it resurfaces amid Super Committee deficit negotiations this fall. "I'd be surprised if 100 to 300 billion more in payroll tax is done in a deficit reduction deal, but who knows?" said a top Senate Republican aide.