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The President's Bold Jobs Bill (Maybe)

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The president is sounding like a fighter these days. He even says he'll be proposing a jobs bill in September -- and if Republicans don't go along he'll fight for it through Election Day (or beyond).

That's a start. But read the small print and all he's talked about so far is extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits (good, but small potatoes), ratifying the Colombia and South Korea free trade agreements (not necessarily a job-creating move), and creating an infrastructure bank.

An infrastructure bank might be helpful, depending on its size.

Which is the real question hovering over the entire putative jobs bill -- its size.

Some of the president's political advisors have been pushing for small-bore initiatives that they believe might have a chance of getting through the Republican just-say-no House. They also figure policy miniatures won't give aspiring GOP candidates more ammunition to tar Obama as a big-government liberal.

But the president is sounding as if he's rejected their advice.

That's good policy and good politics.

Good policy because any jobs bill has to be big enough to give the economy the boost it needs to get out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession.

Right now all the old booster rockets are gone. The original stimulus is over. The Fed's "quantitative easing" is over.

Combine the budget cuts state and local governments continue to make with the slowdown in consumer spending, the reluctance of businesses to expand or hire, and the magnitude of unemployment and under-employment, and you need a big new booster rocket. I'd estimate the shortfall in aggregate demand to be $300 billion to $500 billion this year alone.

A bold jobs plan is also good politics. With more than 25 million Americans looking for full-time jobs, the wages of people with jobs falling, and an economy on the verge of a double dip, the President has to come out fighting on the side of average people.

Besides, Republicans won't go along with any jobs initiative he proposes -- even a tiny one. Better they reject one that could make a real difference than one that's pitifully small and symbolic.

If Republicans reject it, Obama can build his 2012 campaign around that fight. Maybe he'll even call Republicans on their big lie that smaller government leads to more jobs.

What would a bold jobs bill look like? Here are the ten components I'd recommend (apologies to those of you who have read some of these before):

1. Exempt first $20K of income from payroll taxes for two years. Make up shortfall by raising ceiling on income subject to payroll taxes.

2. Recreate the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps to put long-term unemployed directly to work.

3. Create an infrastructure bank authorized to borrow $300 billion a year to repair and upgrade the nation's roads, bridges, ports, airports, school buildings, and water and sewer systems.

4. Amend bankruptcy laws to allow distressed homeowners to declare bankruptcy on their primary residence, so they can reorganize their mortgage loans.

5. Allow distressed homeowners to sell a portion of their mortgages to the FHA, which would take a proportionate share of any upside gains when the homes are sold.

6. Provide tax incentive to employers who create net new jobs ($2,500 deduction for every net new job created).

7. Make low-interest loans to cash-starved states and cities, so they don't have to lay off teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and reduce other critical public services.

8. Provide partial unemployment benefits to people who have lost part-time jobs.

9. Enlarge and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit - a wage subsidy for low-wage work.

10. Impose a "severance fee" on any large business that lays off an American worker and outsources the job abroad.

Some of these won't cost the federal government money. Others will be costly in the short term but lead to faster growth.

Remember: Faster growth means a more manageable debt in the long term. Which means the President could tie this (or any other jobs bill of similar magnitude) to an even more ambitious long-term debt-reduction plan than he's already proposed.

A bold jobs bill is good politics and good policy. Let's wait to see what the President actually proposes.

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.

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