WASHINGTON -- Speaking just minutes after the Senate passed legislation to raise the debt ceiling -- removing the last political hurdle for that bill's passage -- President Barack Obama delivered a speech in the Rose Garden in which he once again pleaded for a renewed focus on jobs.
Sounding at times exasperated that the political conversation had veered so swiftly to the topic of austerity, Obama urged Congress to present him with job-creating bills as soon as it returned from its August recess. The specifics were pretty much the same as what the White House has stressed for weeks if not months: free trade agreements, patent reform, an infrastructure bank, regulatory changes and the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.
"Growing the economy isn’t just about cutting spending, it is not about rolling back regulations that protect our air and water and keep people safe. That is not how we are going to get past this recession. We are going to have to do more than that," he said.
"There already is a quiet crisis going on in the lives of a lot of families and a lot communities all across the country. They are looking for work and they have been for a while ... that ought to compel Washington to cooperate, that ought to compel Washington to compromise and that ought to compel Washington to act."
Coming so soon after both the president and a large portion of the Democratic party signed off on a bill that takes roughly $2.4 trillion out of the economy in the next 10 years, it was hard to imagine that the remedies being offered would have much of a cumulative effect. Moreover, a "pivot" to jobs was already tried unsuccessfully after the tax cut debate at the end of 2010 and the government shut down debate in the spring of 2011.
But Obama's speech was more about establishing the proper tone than it was about forging out new legislative remedies. With the debt ceiling debate now over until after the 2012 election, the major discussion shifts back to what, if anything, government can do to spur economic growth. One portion of that argument will come when Congress must pass a budget to fund the government by the end of September. But the White House will likely try and create some sort of defining contrast between the president and his Republican critics well before then.
"[W]hen Congress gets back from recess, I will urge them to immediately take some steps -- bipartisan, common-sense steps -- that will make a difference; that will create a climate where businesses can hire, where folks have more money in their pockets to spend, where people who are out of work can find good jobs," said Obama. "Both parties share power in Washington, and both parties need to take responsibility for improving this economy. It's not a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility; it is our collective responsibility as Americans."