White House Jobs Summit: Real Progress or PR Stunt?

Obama: Not interested in "taking a wait-and-see approach" to job creation.

ByABC News
December 2, 2009, 6:14 PM

Dec. 3, 2009 -- President Obama said today that he is not interested in "taking a wait-and-see approach" when it comes to job creation, as his administration faces unemployment numbers at their worst levels since 1983.

"What I'm interested in is taking action right now to help businesses create jobs right now, in the near term," the president said at the opening session of the White House jobs summit.

The summit, announced a week after the Bureau of Labor Statistics said unemployment reached 10.2 percent, is the administration's latest effort to do just that.

However, some critics dismiss it as little more than a publicity stunt.

Obama acknowledged the skepticism that the summit would produce tangible results, but said he was confident there would be some progress from the discussions among the 135 leaders from every sector of the economy -- government, labor, academia, non profits and business of all sizes -- gathered at the White House today.

"I'm confident that people like you -- who built thriving businesses or revolutionized industries or brought cities and communities together and changed the way we look at the world and innovated and created new products -- that you can come up with some additional good ideas on how to create jobs," he said.

"I need everybody here to bring their 'A game' here today," Obama added, challenging the participants to come up with "fresh perspectives" and "new ideas."

The president said he was looking for "specific recommendations" that can be implemented to spur job growth "as quickly as possible."

"I'm going to be asking some tough questions. I will be listening for some good answers. And I don't want to just brainstorm up at 30,000 feet," he said.

With the country dealing with its highest unemployment rate in 26 years, the administration is under pressure to get Americans back to work. While unemployment is traditionally a lagging indicator -- taking longer to turn around than the stock market and other economic indicators -- time is of the essence.

"We inherited an economic meltdown 10 months ago when he took office," senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts today.

"He moved boldly to get us back on track with a variety of measures. We still have an unemployment rate that is far too high," Jarrett added. "He thinks today is a great opportunity to bring in new fresh ideas."

But is the White House jobs summit an event that will spur tangible actions?

Some are asking if the summit is just a glorified public-relations stunt, despite the presence of some of the country's best and brightest business executives, finance experts, economists, small business owners and labor leaders to discuss ways to generate job creation.

"We're not going to get anything useful out of it," said Peter Morici, professor at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business.

The president and his treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, "really don't know what to do," Morici said.

The White House characterizes the summit as a listening opportunity, a chance for Obama and his economic team to hear directly from key business leaders their ideas on how to get Americans back to work.

"I would say to those critics, we welcome your ideas," Jarrett said. "We embrace all good ideas and I think critics should stop saying what won't work and come forward with what will work."

The president and vice president will deliver remarks to open the forum and then members of the Cabinet will hold smaller working sessions on job creation, economic growth and green jobs.

"There are companies that are out there that are expanding. ... We have a variety of different ways we can really drill down and come up with concrete new ideas," Jarrett said, adding that the discussions in the job summit will focus on infrastructure, small jobs, exports, green jobs and "innovative ways to retooling our workforce."

In the coming weeks, "the president will be embracing those ideas, working with Congress if legislation is necessary," she added. "We do everything we can each and every day to bring down that unemployment rate."