The issue of jobs and the economy is the runaway number one issue and dilemma facing the Obama administration. The GOP has made it clear that whoever faces off against Obama in 2012 will make this issue the issue to try and snatch back the White House. In this exclusive interview with Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to President Obama, Jarrett gives the White House view on what it's doing to blunt the GOP on the issue of jobs and the economy.
EOH: What are the specific initiatives that the White House put on the table on creating jobs?
VJ: When the president took office, his first focus was making sure we avoided a Great Depression, as we were in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Since he has been here he has focused on this issue. The last six months of the Bush administration lost four million jobs and the first six months of the Obama administration lost another four million before any initiatives of the president could take action. Every month over the last 15 months we have seen private sector job growth in job creation. But we still have a long way to go. We recognize the government can't create the jobs that will absorb those who are unemployed. The long term sustainable growth in job creation comes from the private sector. It is important that the Obama administration partner with the private sector and come up with the best possible ideas for creating jobs. The president held his second meeting with his Counsel on Jobs and Competitiveness, chaired by the CEO of General Electric with 25 small, medium and large businesses and labor represented. He charged them with "What more can we do?" The counsel has come up with a series of ideas to stimulate growth and development, including looking at ways to effectively process Visas to support travel and tourism and increase the number of visitors to the United States. Buildings all over the country need to be retrofitted and made energy efficient. The construction area is where so many jobs were lost, so it's a 2-fer, where you can retrofit buildings and create jobs. There are a whole series of ideas we want to put into place as soon as possible. We have to invest in education, innovation and rebuilding our infrastructure, because right now our competition is overseas.
EOH: The GOP says that the president is killing the private sector; however the president is working with the private sector to increase jobs. How do you deal with that?
VJ: We focus on what is important, the American people. When we first came in the capital markets had dried up and banks were not lending. The Recovery Act helped jumpstart the economy. If we hadn't had that, there would be teachers, firemen and policemen all over our country who would have lost their jobs; state and local governments would have had to lay off additional people. We have preserved tax cuts for 95% of the people, and there are a host of infrastructure projects near completion around the country. The necessity for the infusion of federal dollars is because the private sector wasn't growing. They were losing jobs. Now the private sector has been growing and we've had an enormous amount of support from companies around the country who want to work with us. The president announced that he asked all of his agencies to do a look-back of the regulations that are on our books that have a chilling impact on job creation and don't serve an important purpose. There are billions of dollars worth of cost savings that the agencies have come up with for regulations we can discontinue that are not serving a good purpose. So we can make government more efficient and perform at its highest level and create an environment where companies would want to invest and grow.
EOH: Will there be a second stimulus coming out of Congress?
VJ: This is what the president has proposed and continues to support. We have got to invest in our infrastructure. That requires expenditure of public dollars, and also the opportunity to create an infrastructure bank where all public dollars could leverage private dollars. At the Jobs Council meeting the president of Southwest Airlines said that if we had a better air traffic control system and airport system, he would be able to save 15% in fuel costs. This savings could go into creating jobs and making air transportation run more smoothly. Comparing our system here against around the world, we are losing our competitive edge. We have to improve our transportation systems; investing in these is a good investment for the future. With energy efficient buildings across the country, we would save up to $40 billion a year on utility bills and boost the manufacture of energy efficient products. In terms of public expenditure, investing in education and research, biotech companies can't afford all the upfront experimentation and research necessary. Government is there to do that and take it to the next stage, making sure we are investing in companies that are going to create jobs for the future. A community college initiative was announced, pairing the private sector with college systems to design a curriculum so there will be jobs waiting when they finish. We have to tighten our belts.
EOH: Why hasn't the GOP gone to the president asking to work on jobs together?
VJ: I have no answer for that, but President Obama stands ready to work with everyone, because that's what the American people expect and deserve -- not for the short term political advantages, but the long term health of our country. We don't spend time trying to figure out what's in the minds of Republicans, we try to keep our focus on the American people. It helps to have the private sector with us. The Council is bi-partisan. These business leaders want to make America strong and they leave their politics at home. Through that kind of effort we will see the change we need and the American people expect.
EOH: What is your projection for 2012, how important will the economy be in determining who is elected?
VJ: We have a responsibility to try to stimulate the creation of jobs so that every American that wants to work can. We are moving in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. I can't predict where we will be in 12 months. I can say that when we get the kind of support that we are seeing from the private sector, that's our best hope. The president has been able to galvanize that kind of support from labor and business owners all around the country. Part of what makes America strong is our resilience, tenacity, innovation and our willingness to be optimistic about our future. I know that President Obama is absolutely the best president to lead our country in the right direction.
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