Democrats Seek 'Boldness' in Obama Jobs Speech

The president faces pressure for new economic ideas as GOPers unveil own plans.

August 29, 2011, 2:46 PM

Aug. 30, 2011— -- As President Obama prepares to deliver another major speech on the economy, his supporters demand a job growth plan that's big and bold, even as they prepare to be underwhelmed.

"The president has just got to become much more aggressive about what his vision is, where he wants to get the economy and why other approaches are not as good as his. Period," said Simon Rosenberg, a former adviser to President Clinton and founder of the New Democrat Network.

Many Democrats say they want to hear a forceful presidential push for new stimulus spending and middle-class tax cuts, with less emphasis on deficit reduction and government spending cuts they say could stunt job creation and hamper economic recovery.

Others, rankled by the administration's willingness to compromise with Republicans during the recent debt ceiling debate, also want Obama to draw a clearer line in the sand over tax hikes for the wealthy and protecting entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, from cuts.

"Tax cuts and incentives for corporations have repeatedly failed to put Americans back to work," the leaders of 70 progressive organizations said in a letter to Obama. "It is time to move beyond these half measures designed to appeal to a narrow ideological minority who have repeatedly shown their unwillingness to negotiate and their disinterest in real solutions.

"History—and proven economics—tells us that any plan to solve our job crisis needs to be big, bold, and create jobs directly," they wrote.

Last week, AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka called on Obama to stop "nibbling around the edge" on solutions to the economy, warning "history will judge him, and I think working people will judge him."

"Unemployment is unconscionable," said an exasperated Rep. Maxine Waters at a Congressional Black Caucus town hall meeting earlier this month. "We don't know what his strategy is."

The latest Gallup poll shows Obama's job approval rating has slumped to a new low of 38 percent, while his disapproval rating has inched up to a new high of 55 percent.

And there is growing skepticism over whether another Obama jobs plan can do what previous plans could not.

"There's an austerity-led approach that Republicans are offering, and there's a more investment-led approach the president laid out," said Rosenberg. "That distinction has to be made clearer for the American people to understand there's a choice. Moreover, the ultimate concern of his has to be to do the right thing for the country, not to appease the Republican Party."

In the midst of all this, Republicans hoping to unseat Obama in 2012 are lining up to release job plans of their own.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman will unveil a jobs proposal Wednesday, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is slated to roll out his plan Sept. 6. One day later, the GOP candidates will take the stage at a presidential debate that will likely focus on the economy and jobs.

Strategists said Obama's address next week could be his last chance to reclaim control of the narrative on jobs, which Republicans have sought to exploit as the 2012 campaign kicks into high gear.

"He's out of mulligans and he's out of time," communications strategist Michael W. Robinson, a former member of the George H.W. Bush administration, said of Obama. "One thing he's not out of is support. But he's going to be if he doesn't make a decision to be bold. He's got to look around and decide how he can get the most people back to work the fastest with the election quickly approaching."

Obama's jobs speech will likely include a renewed push for several familiar pieces of pending legislation, such as a payroll tax cut extension, additional unemployment benefits, three international trade deals and an infrastructure project bank, officials said.

The president is also expected to unveil new ideas to spur growth, including possible tax incentives for businesses that hire new workers and short-term direct government spending on construction projects. The White House has so far declined to discuss details.

"It's not a political package. It's precisely the opposite of it," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. "The president feels very passionately that we need to take new measures to see that jobs are created and the economy grows."

Alice Rivlin, a Democratic member of the President's Debt Commission and former head of the Office of Management and Budget, said she expected Obama's plan would placate Democrats with short-term stimulus spending and Republicans with long-term budgetary reforms.

"I think the president and Speaker Boehner came close to a grand bargain," Rivlin said, referring to the debt ceiling deal.

"Coming back to that would be a way to end political gridlock and accomplish the two things that need to be done, accelerating the growth of the economy and creating jobs at the same time as getting the deficit resolved in a balanced way, which is the only way to do it," she said.

But with congressional Republicans, inspired by the Tea Party movement, determined to block Obama's economic agenda at every turn, whether the president can succeed in getting a package through the House and Senate remains unclear.

"Everybody says everything's impossible. I don't believe it," Rivlin said.

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