Right after the Afghanistan decision rollout, the Administration turned on a dime and focused on jobs, something it seemed they neglected in public of late. The message has been deliberate and sustained ever since.
Thursday there was a jobs summit at the White House with business influencers representing a cross-section of geography, sector, and size, though Montgomery Burns was not spotted.
Friday the president took questions at an Allentown community college. (The last question was from a young guy who just wanted some help, as a student and veteran, with the red tape of getting his post-9/11 GI bill honored.)
With hints yesterday and a speech today the president revealed a plan to use the $200 billion of remaining TARP funds to create jobs. (Of the $700 billion passed under Bush, half was intentionally left over for the next president, and with faster than expected bank paybacks, this XXL $200 remains). It’s a shrewd (or sneaky?) way to assuage critics who are fearful the Stimulus was not large enough and placate those who do not see justification for passing a second one. Republicans would prefer he pay down the national debt with the extra cash instead. This (“CLEAR!”) defibrillating job jolt is intended to be executed via small business loans, tax breaks, infrastructure projects, and energy efficiency incentives.
Reception was pretty blah on Wall Street as it wrapped up: the Dow ended the speech where it started, down about 80 puntos. However, the reaction was more positive than expected from curmudgeonly Kudlow. (Have to ask: does he own a non-boardroom white collar shirt?)
This announcement comes even as Obama had recently said there is only so much he could do with raw dollars at this point. He may have pulled a rabbit out of his… TARP. There will be some flak, but this money will help to assure we are on the road to recovery, which is not certain yet.
Yet, the big job news of the last week came on Friday, of course. Yes, it’s bigger news than the Monk finale ratings. Jobless claims had an unexpectedly big fall in November: just 11,000 net losses. This is over 100,000 less than anticipated. Moreover, the unemployment rate dropped to 10%-flat, which is not a great number on its own, but hopeful in context. A lot of liberals (and the White House) were cheering this news, and it’s promising, but I’m not convinced yet. Perhaps this news guises a large chunk of people who have run through their unemployment insurance and are no longer able to be tracked?
Besides, in sports, a winning streak is three games or more. In economics, I think it’s got to be at least two months. So while we went from 9.8% to 10.2% to 10.0%, we need to see if this was not an outlier before Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke splurge on a tasting menu at Jean-Georges and a night of dancing and bottle service at Simyone.
I prefer exercising restraint on good news like this, because it’s too early to tell, and perhaps because I don’t want to end up being wrong, which would let the “Toldja so” crowd mouth off. Obama seems to agree. He struck the right tone on that in Allentown, commenting he’s encouraged by the news, but saying, “Good trends don’t pay the rent.”
Everybody’s getting in on this issue du jour. Agent Orange, I mean John Boehner, wrote an article about it last week which reads likes something a Death Eater might pen. It also makes me think he wants to do to Obama what soccer player Elizabeth Lampert did to that girl. (Note to the tangerine-hued Minority Leader: even a former McCain campaign economist has said, “no one would argue that the stimulus has done nothing.”)
Mitt Romney’s doing his darnedest to stake out his territory on the economy going into the next presidential election. As I noted previously, he is doing the best job by doing the least work. He is not out there like Palin or Huckabee, making news with little justification for doing so. Rather, He is disciplined, banking that the alternative to Obama in 2012 will not be a noisy, far-right bid, but a more pragmatic, measured one. It was no mistake he picked USA Today over The Wall Street Journal or the Times for his accessibly digested 10-point plan: he wants to reach the most mainstream, un-stigmatized readership he can to pitch his common sense. If I were David Axelrod, David Plouffe, or Patrick Gaspard (look him up), I would be gaming out my plan for the Stormin’ Mormon.
In the meantime, for the good of the country and the good of his Presidency, Obama needs to keep up the overt job push for three reasons. One, those without steady income in the holiday season feel most frustrated and vulnerable then, heightened in the awareness of their plight (and inability to buy their kids presents), and prone to bitterness and blameful resent. Second, beginning to build on incremental good news with a storyline of measured recovery into the New Year may create actual momentum in the crucial first quarter of 2010. Especially if some polls on the economy are not stellar. And finally, attention to this issue is the most important issue to Americans and their approval of him. Besides Tiger Woods.