Is President Obama serious about passing a jobs bill?
Or is he more interested in creating a campaign platform for his reelection?
To judge by the numerous political nonstarters – both in the plan itself and in the White House's proposals to offset its costs – the American Jobs Act looks like smart politics but a legislative pipe dream.
Most instructive, the $447 billion Jobs Act proposes $30 billion in school modernization funding. This is good policy and good stimulus. It's also funding that was too liberal for the tastes of the Senate back in 2009, when Democrats could count on a 59-seat caucus and the cooperation of a reliable handful of Republican swing votes like Arlen Specter. That Senate stripped away $19 billion in school construction funds passed by the House.
To put it plainly: It's impossible to imagine John Boehner & Co. will approve more school reconstruction funding than Nancy Pelosi's caucus did.
The bigger tell is on the funding side. Today, the White House outlined a plan to pay for the Jobs Act by increasing taxes on rich people. The funding plan is all new revenue. No spending cuts. To wit: Obama proposes to limit the benefit of itemized deductions for the wealthiest, to close the loophole that allows private equity titans to pay a lower tax rates than their secretaries, and to end tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jet owners.
Each of these proposals has been raised and rejected in the recent past. Republicans wouldn't budge on oil-company and jet-owner tax breaks in the debt ceiling debate. More troubling, the proposal to limit itemized deductions for wealthy folks ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from congressional Democrats like Senator Max Baucus during the debate over how to finance Obamacare.
Bottom line: The president's jobs bill probably couldn't have cleared the Senate even when Democrats held a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority. Yet Obama is telling today's Republican-obstructed congress to take it or leave it. "This is the bill that Congress needs to pass. No games. No politics. No delays," the president said this morning. "I’m sending this bill to congress today, and they ought to pass it immediately."
The primary objective of the Jobs Act as currently constituted seems to be to give Obama a potent political platform to take on the road – and an issue set around which to galvanize his activist base.
That may be good news for those eager to make sure president Obama keeps his job. But it's less encouraging for the 14 million unemployed who desperately need a policy response from Washington if they're going to find jobs of their own.