The chief architect of President Obama’s economic plan and Republican rival Mitt Romney’s top economic strategist squared off in a preview of the likely fall debate on the economy, challenging each other on whether the president’s policies have helped or hurt the economic recovery.
The monthly jobs report released Friday showed greater-than-expected growth, with 243,000 new jobs added in January, as the unemployment rate dipped to 8.3 percent. That powered the stock market to its highest closing level since the 2008 financial crisis.
Lawrence Summers, former director of President Obama’s National Economic Council, told me today on “This Week” that he “was surprised by how favorable these numbers were.” He added that the report showed more promising signs than in the past year, crediting President Obama’s policies for the growth.
“If you look beneath the surface of this one, almost every indicator within it is favorable.” Summers said. “Employment is up. Labor force participation did not decline. This was unemployment reduction generated by more jobs.”
“A ton of this is coming from the president’s policies,” Summers added. “It’s coming from the program he put in place to contain what was a situation worse than the Great Depression in 2009 and the steps going forward that the president proposes are the right ones.”
Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard, currently dean of the Columbia Business School, said that while it was a good report, he noted that growth at the same level will be needed for two years to return to pre-recession levels. He said the president’s policies have not done enough, citing underemployment and fewer people looking for work.
“The question is, could we have done much better? And could we have done it in such a way that would have had better fiscal consequences?” Hubbard asked. “How do we grow faster and create jobs more? The president’s agenda is squarely against that.”
To continue growth, Summers pushed for Congress to follow President Obama’s call to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extension through the year.
“This is no time for complacency,” Summers said. “That’s why every day that the Congress fails to extend the payroll tax cut, every day that the Congress fails to extend the unemployment insurance is a day we’re taking more risk than we need to with this economy.”
Summers also said Republican calls to repeal new financial regulations were “dangerous and inappropriate.”
“Surely, this is the time when we need to protect the economy from the kind of mistakes that took place in the financial sector before,” Summers said.
Hubbard countered that “the jury’s still out” on whether not making the extensions would harm the economic recovery, instead calling for long-term reforms of entitlements and the tax code.
“I think there’s a serious debate over the payroll tax and the unemployment insurance benefits, but there also needs to be a serious debate on what we can do in tax policy, in health care, in regulation and financial reform to actually create jobs,” Hubbard said. “The administration’s been standing in the way.”
Despite the positive signs this week, Diane Swonk, the chief economist at Mesirow Financial, said the recovery has been uneven, comparing it to a traffic jam.
“It’s really kind of like being caught in a traffic jam, where for many people – although we’ve moved forward and sort of seeing things free up a bit in recent months – some people’s engines and their batteries are just dying out and they’re being left behind in that traffic jam,” Swonk said.
She warned that trouble overseas, both in European financial policy and in potential conflict with Iran, were “very serious concerns,” while also citing “political uncertainty” as a negative factor limiting long-term economic reforms.
“The political debate is not helping the situation on the economy,” Swonk said. “Both sides of the aisle need to start talking to each other than at each other so they we get some decisions made to be able to have some certainty.”