As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Coming Around On The Jobs Crisis

Bob Herbert wonders today if the Obama Administration understands the nature of the jobs crisis. He says that millions of Americans need to get back to work, and if the private sector is unwilling or unable to produce those jobs, then the government must step in. This was the most crucial passage:

The survey for the Economic Policy Institute was conducted in September by Hart Research Associates. Respondents said that they had more faith in President Obama’s ability to handle the economy than Congressional Republicans. The tally was 43 percent to 32 percent. But when asked who had been helped most by government stimulus efforts, substantial majorities said “large banks” and “Wall Street investment companies.”

When asked how “average working people” or “you and your family” had benefited, very small percentages, in a range of 10 percent to 13 percent, said they had fared well.

I think the White House got an advanced copy of Herbert's column, because their message today has a lot to do with jobs. Peter Orszag reiterated that the President is "exploring additional options to promote job creation." Bloomberg covers it as well:

President Barack Obama is considering a mix of spending programs and tax cuts to respond to widening job losses that would amount to an additional economic stimulus without carrying that label.

The discussion of the initiatives, including a boost in transportation spending and an extension of an expiring tax credit for first-time homebuyers, comes as the White House is balancing rising concern about unemployment and a budget deficit the Congressional Budget Office estimates will total $1.6 trillion for 2009, and $1.4 trillion in 2010.

Administration officials have told allies in Congress that a broader transportation bill, and extensions of a homebuyer tax credit and unemployment benefits are all on the table, a Senate aide said.

As well as Herbert's paper, The New York Times:

President Obama’s economic team discussed a wide range of ideas at a meeting on Monday, following his Saturday radio address in which he said it would “explore additional options to promote job creation.” But officials emphasized that a decision was still far off and that in any event the effort would not add up to a second economic stimulus package, only an extension of the first [...]

Among the options for additional steps is some variation on Mr. Obama’s proposal during the stimulus debate to give employers a $3,000 tax credit for each new hire, which Congress rejected last winter partly out of concern that businesses would manipulate their payrolls to claim the credit. Another option would allow more businesses to deduct their net operating losses going back five years instead of the usual two; Congress limited the break to small businesses as part of the economic stimulus law.

Not to mention the WSJ and a separate Times article.

Calculated Risk worked through some of the safety net options the other day. Extending unemployment benefits and COBRA reductions sounds fine, but I don't see exactly how they create jobs - though added consumer spending may save some. The homebuyer tax credit, while popular, is a complete waste of money, costing tens of thousands per new home sold, and it isn't boosting housing and construction to any great degree.

As for the rest, infrastructure spending through the transportation bill would be great, but is the Administration willing to waive paygo rules, or do they have some idea to pay for it? The business tax credit for new hires seems ripe for abuse, as does the "carry-back" provision allowing major tax breaks for corporations. That just sounds like trickle-down economics to me, and thus far it hasn't worked.

Robert Reich has some much better ideas, though he does side with the new jobs tax credit.

Use existing authority under both the stimulus package enacted earlier this year and the nefarious TARP bailout fund -- extending and combining them into a fund to make up for state and local cuts in public school budgets, childrens' health, public health (we need workers to administer swine flu vaccine) and public transportation. Instead of bailing out banks and giant automakers, we should switch to bailing out public services that average people need.

Propose a one-year payroll tax holiday on the first 20,000 of income. Republicans as well as Blue Dog Dems could go along with this, and it would be a highly progressive tax cut since 80 percent of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes.

Give small businesses a "new jobs tax credit" for every net new job created over the next year. Granted, under normal circumstances this sort of jobs credit doesn't have much effect, and it's difficult to separate hires that would have happened anyway from net new ones. But we're not in normal circumstances; small businesses, which are responsible for most new jobs, still aren't hiring. They need a boost.

Dramatically expand the Small Business Administration's lending programs and have the Fed buy up the SBA's debt. Big banks are not lending to small businesses. TARP has been an utter failure in this regard. The SBA and the Fed should circumvent them and help small businesses get the capital they need, so they can start hiring again.

These might work in separate bills instead of one big stimulus bill that would have a target on its back. There's no question that state aid should be on the top of the list, and I think accelerating infrastructure spending is vital enough that deficit spending makes sense; government interest rates remain low, after all.

More than anything, the Obama Administration has to show through their actions a concern for those struggling right now. The jobs picture is intimately tied to their economic fortunes, so they have every incentive to do so.

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