Silver TARP: Obama Focuses on Jobs, Amid Policy Blur

By Gorman Gorman

Dec 8, 2009 8:26am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: The first job is explaining that there’s a jobs plan.

The second job is explaining how the other plans don’t take away from it.

The third job is making it all work.

It’s another one of those weeks where the blur of activity — in semi-competing directions — threatens to obscure the messaging.

President Obama takes on jobs with an 11:15 am ET speech at the Brookings Institution. The challenge will be making this particular message stand out — when there’s health care in the Senate, a climate-change conference in Denmark, an Afghanistan policy to sell to Congress — plus renewed interest in deficit-cutting.

This is where TARP comes in: The money is flowing back in faster than expected, and Democrats see a chance for a Main Street bailout with Wall Street bailout funds — not bad politics, even if the policy itself is something of an accounting gimmick.

(And this is another one of those areas where Republicans are just as pleased with the politics: It’s another data point for the argument they’re building about over-spending. Any time they’re talking about bailouts…)

An administration official tells ABC News: “The President will announce three key priorities for targeted investment — including a series of steps to help small businesses grow and hire new staff, an additional investment in infrastructure to continue modernizing our highways and railways, bridges and tunnels, airports and seaports and a new program to provide rebates for consumers who retrofit their homes to become more energy efficient.”

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, at the White House blog: “We don’t think there is one silver bullet, one plan, one speech or a singular piece of legislation that alone will solve double-digit unemployment. And the President’s speech will not represent the totality of our plans for continued economic recovery.”

Sense a theme? “This has been an ongoing process,” Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told ABC’s Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America.”

And — on celebrating last week’s jobs numbers with the president: “The hugs that I got were really just some happiness that maybe we have finally turned the corner,” Romer said.

Handicapping the politics — The Washington Post’s Dan Balz: “But will the Democrats’ attention to the economy prove to be little more than an exercise in checking a box or the beginning of a sustained and determined focus on a problem that many Americans fear has gotten too little attention from their elected leaders? Will the economy have to compete in the coming year with issues like climate change and immigration reform, which Obama has promised to push once the health-care debate ends, or will the administration delay shifting to those problems until it has dealt more successfully with the economy?”

There’s that theme again — Senior White House adviser David Axelrod: “We’re moving in the right direction, but we’ve got to make more progress.”

Out of the noise: “In recent weeks, Obama’s focus has been largely on foreign policy, with a weeklong trip to Asia, the announcement of a new strategy in Afghanistan and his upcoming acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe and Karen Travers report. “The White House is going to great lengths to emphasize that the president is not checked out when it comes to the economy and job creation.”

What can be done that doesn’t cost too much? “Ten months after signing into law a $787 billion stimulus package to boost the economy, Obama faces mounting pressures from the nation’s yawning $12 trillion debt burden and its growing ranks of jobless Americans,” David Cho and Michael A. Fletcher write in The Washington Post.

“Obama has set out to tackle both concerns, though he is not expected to detail programs or precise spending figures in his speech at the Brookings Institution. He has suggested that the two issues are linked and hinted that job creation may ultimately command more resources and attention from the administration,” Cho and Fletcher write.

“Among the initiatives the president will discuss today are steps to help small businesses grow and hire new staff, spending to modernize roads, railways, bridges and tunnels, airports and seaports and a new program to provide rebates for consumers who retrofit their homes to become more energy efficient,” Bloomberg’s Ed Chen and Nicholas Johnston report. “The president said yesterday he will look at ‘selective approaches’ to using a portion of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to spur job growth, such as opening up more credit for small- and medium-sized businesses.”

Temptation of the TARP: “Some administration officials support using a portion of TARP money to help pay for the new government job-creation efforts. Aides said such a move would send the message to Americans that their economic survival is as important as that of Wall Street executives and automakers,” the Los Angeles Times’ Jim Puzzanghera and Christi Parsons report. 

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, to ABC’s Jake Tapper: “We’ve been very successful in bringing stability back to the financial system and that’s going to create very substantial resources for the President and the Congress to devote to the immediate priorities to the country.”

But: “White House officials have concluded that their ability to use Wall Street bailout funds for a new job-creation initiative will be strictly limited by budget rules and the terms of the original bailout legislation, administration and congressional officials said Monday. Bailout funds are likely to be restricted mainly to a new small-business lending effort,” per The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman.

Christina Romer, on “GMA”: “Nobody’s talking about using that to directly invest in infrastructure, or tax incentives for small businesses. What I think you’ll see the president say today is that is a part of a fiscally responsible program, where we do have room to do what we absolutely need to do for the American people, and create jobs.”

Cue up the talking points: “That’s a sham to use it to justify additional spending,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., per the Washington Times’ Sean Lengell. (Gregg will be a guest on’s “Top Line” today at noon ET — livestreaming HERE.)

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, with the pre-buttal: “It would be a giant step backwards if the President were to use his speech to propose more of the same big-government ‘stimulus’ spending that hasn’t worked. Equally troubling is the Democrats’ push for using TARP to ‘pay for’ government programs, which would just be more deficit spending in another form.  TARP is not a slush fund to bail out politicians. Taxpayer money paid back to the government should be used for deficit reduction. Period.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: “Using bailout funds for another spending spree would violate both current law and our pledge to return every dollar to the taxpayers. Americans’ patience is running awfully thin with politicians who promise jobs, but deliver only more debt.”

Plus, at 1:30 pm ET, GOP plans for job creation: “Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) will be joined … for a press conference by RSC members of the freshman class who were small business owners prior to coming to Washington.”

Still stimulating: “The White House, under pressure to do more on the jobs front, is projecting that the pace of stimulus spending will double over the next six months as last winter’s giant economic recovery package hits its stride,” Politico’s David Rogers reports.

(Flashback — Christina Romer, in testimony before the Joint Economic Committee last month: “Most analysts predict that the fiscal stimulus will have its greatest impact on growth in the second and third quarters of 2009.”)

Racing against the calendar: “House Democratic leaders have made passing a jobs bill their top priority for the end of the year, but time is running out to move major legislation,” The Hill’s Jared Allen reports.

On health care — is the public option meeting its demise?

“The long slow death of the public option may be nigh,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports. “The latest idea: substituting a government-run public option with national private health plans overseen by the federal Office of Personnel Management. In exchange for relenting on the public option, progressives have suggested they could be satisfied by an expansion of Medicare eligibility – from 65 to 55.”

“One of the changes being pushed by the liberals would lower the age of eligibility for Medicare to 55, from 65. Another would expand Medicaid to cover people with incomes up to 150 percent of the poverty level (up to $33,075 for a family of four),” The New York Times’ Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn report.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.: “The discussions are going in the right direction, moving away from a government-run plan.”

The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn writes that the compromise “would effectively give up on this incarnation of the public plan.” He adds: “Remember, the original notion was to create a program like Medicare. And what’s more like Medicare than Medicare itself?”

Those would mark some major expansions in some ways the left has only dreamed of for years. But will it be enough to balance out an enormous concession? Are liberals going to go for a public option that isn’t?

“These are things that Republicans have argued for. And so for the Democrats to come and say, ‘Well, this is the public option’ — I don’t see too many on the left signing on to that,” former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said on’s “Top Line” Monday.

But first — another abortion showdown, with a vote expected Tuesday on the Nelson-Hatch amendment that tracks the Stupak language.

The Boston Globe’s Susan Milligan: “The battle over abortion is threatening to derail the health care overhaul package in the Senate, as liberals refuse to accept new abortion restrictions demanded by key moderates, who say that without the limits, they are inclined to vote against the overall bill.”

“The Senate is expected to defeat, as early as today, a provision banning coverage for abortion under any insurance plans — public or private — that accept federal subsidies. Without moderate Democrats such as Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who introduced the abortion amendment yesterday, it will be very difficult for Democratic leaders to collect the 60-vote supermajority needed for passage,” Milligan continues.

(If Nelson’s a no — does that make Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the most important senator all over again?)

Rhetoric alert: “Please don’t single out women,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a speech on the Senate floor, per McClatchy’s Rob Hotakainen. “What have women done to deserve this? … Why have such a lack of respect for them?”

More alerts — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., from the Senate floor: “You think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, slow down, it’s too early. Let’s wait. Things aren’t bad enough. When women spoke up for the right to speak up, they wanted to vote, some insisted slow down, there will be a better day to do that.”

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, on “GMA”: “My guess is this is going to blow over — the real action now going on behind the scenes in these negotiations over the public health insurance option.”

The next White House must-read? Time’s Karen Tumulty, on the latest letter by a group of prominent economists to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “Set against the context of the way politics are being practiced with regard to health care policy, it carries an unmistakable warning: The legislative process is grinding away some of the most important promised reforms in the health care system — and the promise that this legislation will deliver better health care to Americans at lower cost.”

Putting the “H” at the beginning of Copenhagen, from the home front: “The Obama administration moved closer Monday to issuing regulations on greenhouse gases, a step that would enable it to limit emissions across the economy even if Congress does not pass climate legislation,” The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson and David A. Fahrenthold report.

“The move, which coincided with the first day of the international climate summit in Copenhagen, seemed timed to reassure delegates there that the United States is committed to reducing its emissions even if domestic legislation remains bogged down. But it provoked condemnation from key Republicans and from U.S. business groups, which vowed to tie up any regulations in litigation.”

“It comes as the largest climate change conference in history gets underway this week in Copenhagen, where President Obama is expected to join 191 other countries next week in trying to set global limits on emissions,” David Saltonstall reports in the New York Daily News. “Experts said the EPA’s move was clearly intended to strengthen Obama’s ability to press other nations into action by showing that the U.S. is taking the problem seriously.”

The pushback: “Republicans are interpreting the EPA’s landmark ruling today that greenhouse gases threaten the public health as the Obama administration’s first step around Congress in curbing emissions,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports.

On Afghanistan — with Gen. Stanley McChrystal on the Hill Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Afghanistan for a surprise visit (is there another kind?).

“We are in this thing to win,” Gates said, using the world President Obama famously didn’t a week ago.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler: “Gates’s remark that the United States is in the battle in Afghanistan ‘to win’ marked an unusual description of the mission here by an administration official. Obama has shied away from such expressive language, either in his speech last week announcing the decision to add at least 30,000 troops or when he first announced an Afghanistan strategy in March.”

Encouraging for the White House, after the explainer-in-chief did his job: “Public support for the war in Afghanistan is up nine percentage points in the last three weeks, as American voters say 57-35 percent that fighting the war is the right thing to do.  Approval of President Barack Obama’s handling of the war is up seven points in the same period, from a 38-49 percent negative November 18 to a 45-45 percent split, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.”

It’s primary day in Massachusetts, in the race to fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s, D-Mass., seat: “For three months, the candidates for US Senate have tried to generate voter excitement for a special primary election that has often seemed to be off the public’s radar. Today, with low turnout expected across the state, their campaign organizations will pull out all the stops to get those voters who were paying attention in to the polling booths,” Brian C. Mooney and Matt Viser report in The Boston Globe.

“The campaigns of Attorney General Martha Coakley, US Representative Michael E. Capuano, City Year cofounder Alan Khazei, and Celtics co-owner Stephen G. Pagliuca are all operating on models assuming a turnout of 500,000 or fewer voters. They are targeting voters they are certain will vote, providing transportation for those who need it, and trying to stoke enthusiasm among the thousands of volunteers working the polling places and the phones. … The winner of the Democratic race will face off in the Jan. 19 special election against the winner of today’s Republican primary, state Senator Scott Brown or Duxbury businessman Jack E. Robinson.” “Secretary of State William Galvin predicted a voter turnout between 10 to 25 percent despite the historic election and the powerful post up for grabs,” the Boston Herald’s Hillary Chabot reports. ABC’s Teddy Davis, on the favorite in the Democratic primary: “During her tenure as attorney general, Coakley has confronted Wall Street banks for their role in the mortgage crisis. Earlier this year, Coakley reached an agreement requiring Goldman Sachs to pay $60 million to settle subprime lending claims brought by her office.”

The Kicker:

“If you weren’t planning to buy the book, please don’t … But if you were planning to do it and haven’t bought it, December 8 would be a good time.” — David Plouffe, trying to “beat Palin for a day” in book sales, in a video that may remind you of the campaign. 

“I probably could have won pretty easily.” — Gov. Tim Kaine, D-Va., thinking about the reelection race he wasn’t allowed to have. 

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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