WASHINGTON, March 23, 2010— -- Over the past year, the Obama administration has frequently talked about "pivoting" back to the country's economic problems.
But now, with health care reform (almost) in the bag, the talk may be for real.
Asked today if there will be yet another pivot, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that job creation has been an ongoing priority for the administration.
"The president's been working on the economic recovery every day that he's been in office," Gibbs said. "We know that the president in fact signed a bill just last week to provide tax credits for small businesses that hire the unemployed. And I think we'll continue to talk about that going forward."
Last November, the White House announced a "Main Street Jobs Tour," which would provide an opportunity for Obama to venture beyond the Beltway to cities and towns across America.
"In an effort to spend some time out of Washington and take the temperature on what Americans are experiencing during these challenging economic times, the president will visit communities across the country over the next several months where he will speak with workers and share ideas for continued recovery," the White House said at the time.
The first stop on the tour was Allentown, Pa., Dec. 5, 2009, where Obama said he considers "one job lost one job too many."
But since then he has made just a handful of stops on the Main Street tour. Every time the White House says it is time for a sharper focus on jobs, something flares up at home or abroad to take its attention away.
With health care reform nearly in the Obama administration's rear view mirror, the focus now becomes how to create jobs and prevent another economic meltdown.
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With the country's unemployment rate at 9.7 percent, the administration knows that finding a way to improve the labor market is imperative. Last week Obama signed into law a $17.6 billion jobs bill, calling it "a step in the right direction."
Preventing another financial crisis is the administration's other goal. Democrats have proposed the biggest regulatory overhaul of Wall Street since the Great Depression.
In his weekly address last Saturday, Obama assured Americans that reforms are on the way, despite the best efforts of dissenters.
"I promise to use every tool at my disposal to see these reforms enacted: to see that the bill I sign into law reflects not the special interests of Wall Street, but the best interests of the American people," he said.
It won't take long for the administration's "pivot" to take place. The Senate Banking Committee voted Monday evening to send chairman Chris Dodd's reform proposal on to the full Senate. And just down the road from Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner presented the administration's "closing arguments" for financial reform in a speech at a conservative think-tank.
"We are at a defining moment in the great debate about financial reform," Geithner told the American Enterprise Institute. "This is an enormously complicated issue. We have to get it right. But we know all about the choices. Now we have to decide whether or not we are going to act.
"Be careful whose voice you listen to," Geithner said. "Listen less to those whose judgments brought us this crisis. Listen less to those who told us all they were the masters of noble financial innovation and sophisticated risk management. Listen less to those who complain about the burdens of living with smarter regulation or who oppose having to pay a fee for the costs of this or future crises.
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"Instead, listen to the families and businesses still suffering from this crisis," he said. "Listen to those who borrowed responsibly, but today can't get a loan or refinance their mortgage. Listen to those who lost their jobs and their healthcare and their pension savings. Listen to them."
So for Americans who might have been paying more attention to health care reform than the financial regulatory push, where do we stand now?
The House already passed its reform measure late last year. Among other changes, the House bill would create a stand-alone consumer protection agency to fed off harmful industry practices involving mortgages, credit cards, and other financial products. The proposed agency has been the most controversial element of the reform push.
The Senate only just this week got its reform measure out of the Banking panel. Dodd's proposal, unveiled last week, does not go as far as the House bill. For instance, the consumer watchdog unit would be placed within the Federal Reserve. The proposal would also slash the Federal Reserve's oversight of smaller banks.
Despite Dodd's overtures to Republicans, his plan does not enjoy any GOP support. The Banking committee passed the measure along party lines, sending it on to the full Senate. If passed by the Senate, lawmakers would have to reconcile the differences between the two proposals.
It won't be easy. Republicans and the financial industry are fighting vigorously against the Democrats' efforts. Just last week, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio told a group of bankers in Washington not to get pushed around by some "punk staffers" on Capitol Hill.
Six months ago, Geithner warned lawmakers that "time is the enemy of reform." As the administration pivots back to the economy yet again, the clock is still ticking.