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"JOBS FIRST" -- Starting 'Labor' Day, Obama Can Turn Tables on GOP

Posted: 08/05/11 03:34 PM ET

After the GOP put Obama into a lose-lose proposition on the debt ceiling, there's a jobs jujitsu opportunity -- post-bus tour and on the day dedicated to American workers, Obama can propose investing $300 billion now in a growth agenda in exchange for reducing the deficit through tax reform by another $300 billion in 2014.

While there's a fair fight among Democrats whether President Obama deserves more credit than given for the debt deal he cut, there's little dispute that his Republican opponents used that issue to force him to choose between default and austerity.

But in the spirit of Speaker Boehner's comment that 200 years of "trial and error" required a new approach to debt and deficits, it's taken only a week of stock market declines and the continuing 9%+ unemployment rate to see the error of Cantor-omics. (And now, the S&P downgrade.)

Since the public favors creating more jobs to cutting government spending by 62% to 29%, according to the recent NYT-CBS poll -- and since nearly all economists agree that contractionary policies worsen job growth now, as happened in 1937 -- there's an obvious solution available.

The President has scheduled a "listening bus tour" on the economy through the Midwest in August. On Labor Day, he should announce a "Jobs First" program that the next session of Congress -- or perhaps even the new Super Joint Committee -- should consider: namely, spend $300 billion more to spur consumer demand and job creation now in exchange for $300 billion in deficit reduction in 2014. Jobs first. Cuts later. Deficit reduced.

Also, part of any "Jobs First" package would include related proposals on a payroll tax holiday extension, unemployment benefits, infrastructure spending, ideally major tax loophole closing, perhaps even state aid.

Those insiders who knowingly argue that the GOP would never agree to more "stimulus" are letting potential hostage-takers dictate current policy. As Republicans have done, Democrats need to push good ideas even if success doesn't seem imminent. But given the one-sidedness of public opinion for job creation and tax hikes on the economic elite, let's see how Republicans up in 2012 explain they oppose a "Jobs First" program. Let them tell their constituents that they'd rather keep tax loopholes and low rates intact for the rich rather than generate jobs for the middle-class. Let Speaker Boehner say "hell no!" and then try to repeat his mantra, "Where are the jobs?"

When the congressional GOP says no to a Jobs First plan, then the President in 2012 should run against the just-say-no, anti-jobs Congress that wants to go back to policies that already failed under Bush. If this White House wants its win-the-future agenda to resonate better, it should study the Chicago Tribune headline, "Dewey Beats Truman."

Liberals should stop kvetching that if only Obama had pushed harder last December when he extended the Bush tax cuts to get Don't-Ask/SALT/unemployment benefits...if only he had somehow forced the GOP to agree then to a debt ceiling increase...if only he had invoked the 14th Amendment last month.

Like James Franco co-hosting the Oscars or Michael Jorden playing baseball, it squanders the special talents of this president to coop him up in a room negotiating with people only too happy to tank "his" economy.

Instead, one of the best Educators-in-Chief ever should relentlessly present a different economic frame, as he successfully did when he reversed opinion in June-July on the need to raise the debt ceiling. By shifting the paradigm and lens from debt to jobs, a still personally liked Obama will be able to win the the debate against a Tea Party with a 20%-40% favorable-unfavorable rating and a Congress with a 14%-82% one. But you can't win a debate, as Robert Frost implied, if you don't take your own side.

The facts and arguments are on his side, as commentators on this site -- Arianna Huffington, Robert Reich, Bob Kuttner, Bob Borosage, Jared Bernstein -- have repeatedly argued. They have exposed the lies that spending reductions now correlate with more jobs, that any uptick in tax rates for the rich are "job killers" on "job creators", that the Stimulus failed. Given this assault of magical, extremist arguments, the President's please-let's-put-politics-aside tone of Saturday's radio address is completely inadequate to this moment.

It's time that the guy with the bully pulpit stopped being defensive about deficits and went on offense on why growth is morally essential and the best deficit-reduction machine around. That approach would both enhance his political prospects and help elect a Congress favoring the Growth Agenda of President Obama rather than the shrink-the-government agenda of President Norquist.

Give 'em hell Barry!

 
 
 

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