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Antsy Obama allies propose jobs plans

August 16, 2011|By Peter Nicholas
(Sarah J. Glover/AP )

With each passing day, it seems, President Obama is facing more pressure to produce a jobs package that would make a serious dent in the unemployment rate.

Obama’s economics team is working up some new ideas, but time is running short: the president’s job approval numbers are tumbling amid growing public impatience with the weak economic recovery.

As Obama’s advisors consider the options, a number of elected officials, past and present, are coming forward with proposals of their own.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is touting a plan she says would create 2.2 million jobs underwritten by eliminating certain tax loopholes and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.  That’s a more ambitious package than anything Obama has advanced, but it would face a tough time getting through the Republican-controlled House.

Another set of ideas comes from Edward G. Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor and mayor of Philadelphia. Rendell has long championed major investments in bridge, road, sewer and port repairs. The idea is to create jobs that can’t be out-sourced while fixing up the country’s depleted infrastructure.

Obama has an infrastructure plan of his own. He has asked Congress to approve an infrastructure “bank’’ that would use $30 billion in public money to help attract private contributions that would finance needed public works programs.

“It’s a very good start,’’ Rendell said in an interview, “and it would help – but not immediately.’’

Rendell said it would take up two years for the bank to “ramp up.’’

A more surefire way to strengthen the nation’s long-term “economic viability’’ is a $200 billion a year public works program over 10 years, Rendell said. A proposal on that scale would create five million new jobs, more than a third of the number of Americans who presently lack jobs, he said.

As an incentive to states to put people to work right away, the government could impose a “use it or lose it’’ standard. The money would be yanked back if projects didn’t begin within, say, four months.

Rendell said he and other governors presented the “use it or lose it’’ concept to Obama during the transition in 2008-2009, when the incoming president was focused on passing a stimulus bill. Even Obama would later complain that stimulus projects advertised as “shovel-ready’’ took too long to get going.

“He originally liked the idea very much,’’ Rendell said of the president. “He talked about it but it disappeared from the Act.’’

Rendell laid out a few other ideas. He would expand the pool of AmeriCorps national service jobs. To put construction workers back on the job, he would also have the government fix up foreclosed homes and rent them out. Any rental income would help offset the rehab costs.

And what if conservative House Republicans balk? Here Rendell recommended a confrontational approach that Obama has hinted he may employ in the coming months.

“They either go along with it or they face the consequences,’’ Rendell said. “If I’m them, I don’t want to face the consequences. It’s one thing to talk about the debt and deficit; it’s another thing to vote against a plan that’s common sense.’’

It’s unclear whether Obama can pass a jobs package that will give the economy a needed jolt. But one opportunity may have come and gone.

Rendell said he would have liked to see the president fold in a jobs program to the deficit reduction package Congress approved earlier in the month. Obama’s “grand bargain’’ – a mix of spending cuts, tax increases and changes to Medicare and Social Security – would have been far more palatable to conservative Republicans if a jobs plan were part of the equation, Rendell said.

“If the grand bargain had jobs as part of it, it would have been much tougher for the Republicans to say no,’’ he said.

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