The President Talks About Jobs
12:00 AM, Mar 26, 2011 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
The president and his team have one goal – reelection. Nothing ignoble about that. They know their chances of achieving that goal depend heavily on getting the unemployment rate to turn down, sharply and soon, leaving enough time for the feel-good factor to take hold before November 2012. Nothing ignoble about that, either. And they have to persuade voters that the president is focused on that one goal to the exclusion of all else, that he will not be diverted as he was when he moved Obamacare to the top of his agenda last year. And that’s where Robbie Burns’s warning about what can happen to the best laid plans of mice and men comes in.
The president planned to bill his first-ever tour of South America – a four day, three country (Brazil Chile, El Salvador) affair – as a job-creation event, fulfilling his pledge to create two million export-based jobs. Never mind whether that goal is realistic, the point is that everything the president does, every act, every trip, is designed to convey one message: he cares about jobs. Press, take note.
So the White House team was delighted when Obama persuaded Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, to support America by toughening her call to China to end its currency manipulation, and allow its undervalued currency to rise. Better still, she announced that she will re-open bidding for a multi-billion dollar jet fighter contract, thought until now to be locked up by Airbus and lusted after by Boeing, a big employer in many states, especially in the president’s home state of Illinois. It is guessed that, in return, Obama promised to support Brazil’s drive to obtain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
To the chagrin of President Obama’s spin doctors, news of those diplomatic victories, with their promise of jobs, was buried by events. With Obama dragged reluctantly into enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, Japan’s nuclear plants on the verge of melt-down, the dictators in America’s Middle East allies falling like ten pins, or struggling to control “the street,” reporters were not interested in this or that job creating trade deal. They wanted to know how the president defined the mission in Libya, whether he would halt subsidies to new nuclear plants, and what the administration’s position is in riot-torn Middle Eastern countries. Norm Ornstein, the oft-quoted political pundit who makes his home at Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, told the press that events around the world “makes it very tough for a president who tries to use a foreign trip to help frame an agenda…” Indeed.
The president’s difficulties in positioning himself as the champion of a jobs renaissance were compounded by two new reports on the nation’s fiscal condition, one by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and another by the General Accountability Office (GAO). The CBO analyzed the president’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year and estimates that the federal deficit over the next decade will clock in at $9.5 trillion, a mere $2.3 trillion higher than the White House estimate. And the GAO, re-assessing the nation’s long-term outlook, concludes that the fiscal situation has deteriorated. If the nation’s debt is to be stabilized at 62 percent of GDP, an immediate tax increase of 15 percent, or a spending cut of 13 percent, or some combination of the two is needed. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a sort of budget watchdog and nag, concludes that even under a set of optimistic assumptions, “Large and persistent deficits still lead to an unsustainable growth in debt … and a steady growth in net interest payments to service this growing debt.” By 2030, unless the president and the Congress come to grips with the fiscal situation, net interest payments and entitlements (pensions, health care costs) will consume almost the entire budget, leaving nothing for spending on defense, education and other programs.