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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Jobs, jobs, jobs

by digby

The speech was long on proposals that are unlikely to pass and full of policies that are far too weighted to tax cuts to be entirely useful in the short run. We've been cutting taxes for years now and the rich just save it while everyone else pays down their debt. But the GOP don't want no stinking stimulus of any kind, so the best we can hope for is small bore and maybe some of this will sneak through, who knows?

But I liked some of President Obama's rhetoric tonight. It's campaign stuff really, and if he keeps it up there might even be a real debate between the two parties --- rhetorically at least:

But what we can’t do – what I won’t do – is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe that’s a race we can win.

In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone’s money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own – that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.

Yes, we are rugged individualists. Yes, we are strong and self-reliant. And it has been the drive and initiative of our workers and entrepreneurs that has made this economy the engine and envy of the world.

But there has always been another thread running throughout our history – a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.

We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. But in the middle of a Civil War, he was also a leader who looked to the future – a Republican president who mobilized government to build the transcontinental railroad; launch the National Academy of Sciences; and set up the first land grant colleges. And leaders of both parties have followed the example he set.

Ask yourselves – where would we be right now if the people who sat here before us decided not to build our highways and our bridges; our dams and our airports? What would this country be like if we had chosen not to spend money on public high schools, or research universities, or community colleges? Millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, had the opportunity to go to school because of the GI Bill. Where would we be if they hadn’t had that chance?

How many jobs would it have cost us if past Congresses decided not to support the basic research that led to the Internet and the computer chip? What kind of country would this be if this Chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do? How many Americans would have suffered as a result?

No single individual built America on their own. We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; a nation with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another. Members of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities.

That's the liberal legacy. It's nice to hear it once in a while. And maybe if the people hear it, they might just like it too.

So, why in the world ...

The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next ten years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I’m asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act. And a week from Monday, I’ll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan – a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run.

This approach is basically the one I’ve been advocating for months. In addition to the trillion dollars of spending cuts I’ve already signed into law, it’s a balanced plan that would reduce the deficit by making additional spending cuts; by making modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid; and by reforming our tax code in a way that asks the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share. What’s more, the spending cuts wouldn’t happen so abruptly that they’d be a drag on our economy, or prevent us from helping small business and middle-class families get back on their feet right away.

Now, I realize there are some in my party who don’t think we should make any changes at all to Medicare and Medicaid, and I understand their concerns. But here’s the truth. Millions of Americans rely on Medicare in their retirement. And millions more will do so in the future. They pay for this benefit during their working years. They earn it. But with an aging population and rising health care costs, we are spending too fast to sustain the program. And if we don’t gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won’t be there when future retirees need it. We have to reform Medicare to strengthen it.

Well if the rumors are true that they are going to propose raising the eligibility age for Medicare, it's not going to be there for people who are 65 when they need it, is it? I don't know if that's what they've finally decided, but that's what has people up in arms about this proposal. Now, hopefully that horrible idea will not see the light of day. But it's been leaked and considering the past behavior of the administration and the Democrats in congress, it's not wise to just "trust" that it's not going to happen. (And the idea that it will serve as some sort of an "example" to the Republicans to force their billionaire base to fork over some tip money is ludicrous.)

Moreover, on what planet is it a good idea to take away the best argument the Democrats have in 2012 by proposing this? Candidates all over the country are being told to run on Medicare and hang the Ryan plan around the neck of every dumb Republicans who voted for it. I guess that's not going to be operative going forward.

It's bad politics and it's bad policy and for the life of me I cannot figure out why they would insist on doing it unless they truly believe the policy of raising the Medicare age is worth sacrificing a huge campaign advantage (much less the lives of many people.) I can only speculate about why that would be.

So the speech is a mixed bag. Hearing a recitation of the liberal legacy is welcome and I hope he does more of it. Since the Republicans aren't likely to pass anything anyway, it would have been nice to have an argument for direct government stimulus, but since the president has been making the case for belt tightening for the last several months, I guess they figure it would be too confusing. But committing to more deficit reduction, singling out Medicare and Medicaid, was an unnecessary step backwards.

And guess what?

Rep. Jeb Hensarling says the plan makes "already-arduous challenge of finding bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction nearly impossible"

Okey dokey.

Look, there are some signs that the GOP is not going to do their debt ceiling death dance on this one. As Markos points out here, they need some pork too. I say it's doubtful they'll agree to anything and the most likely scenario is no jobs plan and a failed Super Committee (which wouldn't be that bad.) And maybe, around the edges, there might be a little bit of stimulus.

But we do have a little bit of liberal rhetoric, at least, which contrary to popular opinion, I think is useful in a democracy. It's just kind of nice for the citizens to hear what the philosophy of the Democratic party is supposed to be once in a while. Maybe they'll decide they'd like some more of that --- and who knows where it might lead?

Update: Oh boy --- another bipartisan "reform" gets the thumbs up:

@EricCantor: Reforming unemployment insurance, similar to Georgia Works, is area of commonality. We should get to work on it right away

Here's what Georgia Works is:

The basics

Georgians receiving unemployment benefits are matched with employers who are seeking employees and who agree to provide up to eight weeks of training. The employers do not pay the workers, who work no more than 24 hours a week; instead workers continue to receive their unemployment checks and a $240 weekly stipend to help cover transportation, child care and other expenses.


Employers get up to eight weeks to assess the job candidate, at no cost. If the company decides to hire the candidate, it has avoided the cost of training that worker.

Job seekers get a chance to assess the company and to show what they can do. Whether or not they are hired, they get training and experience that may benefit them down the line.


The amount and quality of training workers receive is dependent on participating companies. Companies get free labor at the taxpayers' expense. Workers receive very little pay for their time and effort.

Gosh, that sounds great. For the employer. (I assume the "employee" is required to do whatever they want or lose his or her benefits, right?) No wonder Eric Cantor loves it.

I hadn't heard that this was supposed to be a "reform" of the whole unemployment system. Yikes.