President Obama faces two options when he announces his jobs program this month: a sweeping program to save the middle class or a narrow list of small initiatives that are guaranteed to be popular. "Everyone's trying to read the tea leaves to see what the president is going to put forward," Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House budget committee, told The Washington Post's Zachary A. Goldfarb and Peter Wallsten. Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, too, wonders, "How bold should he go?" But the thing is, whichever one he goes with, it's almost guaranteed to be D.O.A. in Congress.
reports that "behind the scenes Obama and top aides had yet to reach agreement on the major tenets" of his jobs plan, and it's "unclear whether the president was looking for narrower ideas with a realistic chance of passing the Republican-led House or more sweeping stimulus proposals that would excite his liberal base and draw contrasts with the GOP." NBC News' First Read
explains how the White House might be calculating:
The downside to going big: The American public (especially independents) is no longer in favor of stimulating the economy by spending more money, but they do want some REAL solution to this wheezing economy. The downside to going small: Obama has racked up plenty of tactical legislative accomplishments, but he hasn’t gotten credit for them.
But The New Republic
's Jonathan Chait
says any Democrat who thinks Obama can get any stimulus past Congress is in denial:
Maybe -- maaaybe -- an extended pressure campaign could force Republicans to agree to extend the payroll tax cut. But even that would have modest stimulative benefit. Anything larger has no chance of enactment. Republicans have strong ideological and partisan motives to block any further economic stimulus.
Indeed, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
put out a memo Monday detailing Republicans' jobs agenda, which involves eliminating regulations and taxes on businesses. "I think the administration has... already demonstrated that it is not interested in focusing on private sector growth... What our list demonstrates is: Washington now has gotten in the way, and we’'ve got to make it easier, finally, for small business people to grow," Cantor said on Fox News. That doesn't sound like a guy who wants to meet Obama in the middle.
This does not mean there is nothing Obama can do. But his plan needs to be understood as a political strategy, not as a legislative strategy. The point of it is to propose something that is popular and which Obama can blame Republicans for blocking. There is no upside in blaming the opposition for blocking a bill that voters don't want to pass.
So the plan has to be only big-ish, Chait writes, because "anything that's too small will transparently be seen as insufficient to the scale of the disaster. On the other hand, it needs to grapple with the reality that most Americans don't support the kinds of economic stimulus that economists think we need."
What could that entail? Bloomberg's Mike Dorning
reports that Obama's considering "more infrastructure spending, tax incentives to spur hiring, a reduction in the employer portion of the payroll tax credit and changes to unemployment insurance to subsidize worker retraining." Hot Air's Ed Morrissey
calls that "Long on gimmicks and short on the long-term approach, its only virtue appears to be that Obama can't spend as much money on it." The White House will have to hope they'll be popular gimmicks.