Policy Experts Debate Economic Solutions

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - September 8, 2011

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the debate over creating jobs and the president's efforts to frame that agenda during his address tonight.

KWAME HOLMAN: President Obama sets foot in the House chamber tonight for a high-stakes speech that could be crucial to the economy and his presidency.

House Speaker John Boehner said today the country and Congress are eager to hear the plan.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio speaker of the House: Well, I think it's important for us to wait and listen to what the president has to outline, and do so in a way where, in my case, I'm going to be looking for where's the common ground? What is it that we can agree on? We know that the two parties aren't going to agree on everything, but the American people want us to find common ground, and I will be looking for it.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president's jobs pitch, a package of tax credits and targeted spending increases, is expected to total at least $300 billion and maybe much more. It's likely to include, among other things, a continuation of payroll tax cuts for workers, extended benefits for the long-term unemployed, and new spending on public works.

Gene Sperling is director of the president's National Economic Council.

GENE SPERLING, White House National Economic Council: The president's task tonight is to make clear to the United States Congress and the American public that when it comes to getting jobs growing and our economy take -- getting stronger, no and nothing are not options, that we have to take bold action to get more momentum in the economy, more demand, more customers, more jobs. And we have to do it in the context of also having greater confidence in our long-term fiscal situation. That's what our economy needs now.

KWAME HOLMAN: Indeed, Mr. Obama will go before the Congress at a critical time, with unemployment still above 9 percent, and new applications for jobless benefits up again last week.

The president's plan, dubbed the American Jobs Act, will arrive here as legislation next week. In his speech tonight, Mr. Obama is expected to lay out what he's willing to do to jolt the economy. But White House officials say he will also urge Republicans to join him in helping solve the country's economic woes.

GENE SPERLING: He's going to put forward an American Jobs Act proposal tonight that will make very clear that, here's what we could do together, Democrats and Republicans, the American public, that will have a meaningful impact -- and I mean meaningful -- on creating jobs, on spurring growth and on lowering unemployment.

KWAME HOLMAN: Congressional Democrats, such as Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly, complained today the president will not get a fair hearing from the other side.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY, D-Va.: The president tonight will be putting forward his job creation proposal. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have already decided that they're not even going to come and respect the president's joint appearance tonight. Talk about closed minds.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted Republicans are standing on principle when they criticize the Obama policies.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky. minority leader: There's a much simpler reason to oppose the president's economic policies that has nothing whatsoever to do with politics. They simply don't work.

Yet, by all accounts, the president's so-called jobs plan is to try those very same policies again, and then accuse anyone who doesn't support them this time around of being political or overly partisan, of not doing what's needed in this moment of crisis. This isn't a jobs plan; it's a re-election plan.

KWAME HOLMAN: Tomorrow, the president takes his plan on the road, with an appearance in Richmond, Va.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That report from NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman.

And we get the views now of two economists with long experience in the policy debates and the politics of Washington. Douglas Holtz-Eakin is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and he served as chief economics adviser to John McCain during his 2008 presidential campaign. He is currently president of the conservative American Action Forum. And Jared Bernstein, who was chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Biden, he is now a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning public policy center.

And, gentlemen, we thank you both.

And, by the way, we are now hearing the White House is confirming that the president's jobs package that we're going to hear about tonight is going to total something like $450 billion. We had been hearing over $300 billion. The number has gone up.

But let's start by asking -- and, Jared Bernstein, I will start with you -- what -- knowing this president, what would you like to hear him say tonight about jobs?

JARED BERNSTEIN, former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden: I think there are three things, Judy.

First of all, you really want to hear a package that is of a magnitude to really move the needle on unemployment and jobs. And a number in the neighborhood you just mentioned, north of $400 billion, certainly accomplishes that.

Secondly, this is a plan that needs to be plausible, at least in normal times, on a bipartisan level. That is, he needs -- if Congress, particularly House Republicans, are to block this plan, he has to be able to go out to America and explain that these measures that he's proposing -- you mentioned some in the clip there -- are measures that Republicans would typically support.

And, third, he has to just really convey the urgency of working together. I mean, the debt ceiling is behind us. And these guys are coming back from their recess. They got an earful from their constituents that, you know, enough already with budget deficits and debt ceilings and baselines. What we care about are our jobs, our paychecks, our kids' economic opportunities. That's the urgency of working together in the moment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, coming from a different perspective, what do you -- what would you like to hear the president say tonight?

DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, former Congressional Budget Office director: I would like to hear him express a slightly different philosophy than he has in the past, which has really focused very much on temporary stimulus measures, something focused around government programs, and, instead, express a vision for long-term economic growth, with a real commitment to the private sector, something that would be -- that has been missing.

And in doing that, I think it's important for him to take on the single biggest crisis that we face past the immediate jobs crisis, and that is the debt that faces us. So, unlike past efforts, I would like him to talk about how he's going to pay for this, and how these efforts fit in with the efforts of the deficit reduction committee and the Congress.

That's crucial for long-term growth. We can't sail into a fiscal crisis and expect to succeed.

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