WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2009 -- Riding the momentum from improving unemployment numbers and encouraging bailout news, President Obama unveiled a series of ideas to generate job growth across the country but acknowledged that "there is only so much government can do."
"Job creation will ultimately depend on the real job creators: businesses across America," Obama said. "But government can help lay the groundwork on which the private sector can better generate jobs, growth, and innovation."
"These are areas in which we can put Americans to work while putting our nation on a sturdier economic footing," he said, "areas that will generate the greatest number of jobs while generating the greatest value for our economy."
But the president seemed mainly to repeat existing proposals by the administration to stabilize the economy.
Obama said the "continuing struggle" of small businesses obtaining loans to grow is one key area that his administration needs to address.
Building off of comments he made yesterday, the president said today that some of the repaid money and cost savings from the $700 billion bill TARP funds could be put toward small businesses to stimulate job growth.
"We're proposing to waive fees and increase the guarantees for SBA-backed loans. And I am asking my Treasury Secretary to continue mobilizing the remaining TARP funds to facilitate lending to small businesses," he said.
Obama said Monday that he will address the issue of making sure small businesses are still lending, in order to accelerate job growth.
"Although we stabilized the financial system, one of the problems that we're still seeing all the time, and I heard about it when I was in Allentown [Pa.] just this past week, is the fact that small businesses and some medium sized businesses are still feeling the huge credit crunch," the president said. "They cannot get the loans they need to make capital adjustments that would allow them to expand employment. And so that's a particular area where we might be able to make a difference."
Obama also proposed a substantial increase in infrastructure spending, particularly for roads, bridges and communications networks, building on stimulus spending for those kinds of projects.
"These are needed public works that engage private sector companies, spurring hiring across the country," he said.
The president announced a new program to provide greater incentives for consumers to weatherize their homes and businesses to make them more energy efficient. He said these projects create jobs, save families money and reduces pollutions.
This proposal is an expansion of initiatives already included in the Recovery Act, which Obama said "have proven particularly popular and effective."
"It's a positive sign that many of these programs drew so many applicants for funding that a lot of strong proposals -- proposals that will leverage private capital and create jobs quickly -- did not make the cut," he said. "With additional resources, in areas like advanced manufacturing of wind turbines and solar panels, for instance, we can help turn good ideas into good private-sector jobs."
White House Says Job Growth is Top Priority
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.
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. Just last week the administration held a jobs summit in Washington.
"There is no topic the President brings up more in the Oval Office than putting Americans back to work, and this Tuesday the President takes another step as part of his overall effort to jumpstart job growth for Americans," wrote White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer at the administration's blog on Whitehouse.gov.
At the same time, the White House appeared to downplay the impact that one speech can have, with Pfeiffer calling Tuesday's speech "another stepping stone in a continuous effort to jumpstart job growth."
"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," Pfeiffer wrote.
Speaking in Allentown on Friday, the president said, "We need to grow jobs and get America back to work as quickly as we can."
Earlier that day the administration had received a welcome bit of good news when the Labor Department reported that employers shed only 11,000 jobs in November, a massive improvement from prior months.
How important was this news to the administration? When economic adviser Christina Romer handed the report to administration officials, she received four hugs.
But Obama still preached caution, warning the Allentown audience, "We still have a long way to go. I still consider one job lost one job too many."
With a recent ABC News poll showing that 91 percent of Americans believe the nation's economy is in bad shape, the administration needs to tout every encouraging bit of economic news that it can get.
"We, as a country, are in a very different place than we were when 2009 began," the president said Saturday in his weekly address.
Critics argued that the administration should not take credit for improving the employment situation.
House Minority Leader John Boehner said Friday that "anyone who views today's report as a cause for celebration really is out of touch with the American people."
The Ohio Republican contended that the unemployment rate's drop from 10.2 percent to 10 percent did not have "anything to do with the stimulus bill at all."
Meanwhile Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland Business School, said that "progress was achieved only because 291,000 more adults did not look for work and were not counted in the monthly tally of jobless Americans."
TARP Price Tag Less Than Expected for Taxpayers
If the unemployment picture has been the main thorn in the administration's side, the second key economic issue plaguing the White House has been the widespread outrage about the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.
Americans on Main Street have been infuriated as they see unemployment and foreclosures continue to rise at the same time as big bailed-out banks such as Goldman Sachs dish out record-high bonuses.
But this week the administration received positive news on that front as well, when it emerged that the Treasury Department now expects the bailout's 10-year costs to American taxpayers to be $200 billion less than previously forecast.
Obama said the government has had to "spend our way out of this recession in the near term." But now, he said, it is time to wind down the TARP program and put the money saved toward reducing the deficit and creating jobs.