The Lookout

With Obama doing little on jobs, allies grow frustrated

Zachary Roth
The Lookout

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Obama Auburn

In the wake of last week's disastrous jobs report, allies of the Obama administration are expressing extreme frustration at what they see as the White House's inaction on the issue. But there's little evidence that Team Obama is listening.

The economy added just 54,000 jobs in May, and long-term joblessness is at a record high. Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke admitted this week that the recovery has been "frustratingly slow."

That bleak news has prompted harsh criticism of the White House from many of the administration's friends, who view the focus on deficit reduction rather than job creation as badly misplaced, and who want more government stimulus to jolt the economy.

"[T]here is no political will to do anything about the [jobs] situation," New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote today. "Far from being ready to spend more on job creation, both parties agree that it's time to slash spending--destroying jobs in the process--with the only difference being one of degree."

Christina Romer, who stepped down last year as President Obama's top economics adviser, told The Lookout earlier this week that "the U.S. economy needs help," and called for more stimulus spending and business tax cuts to encourage hiring.

Even some Democrats on Capitol Hill are losing patience. "I'm not sure what's gained by giving any oxygen to the incorrect idea that fiscal austerity"--that is, spending cuts--"right now would be expansionary," a senior Democrat told The New Republic magazine.

And a post on the website of the Campaign for America's Future, a leading progressive activist group, is entitled: "If the president won't do something about jobs, who will?" It argues that on the issue, "it seems as if the White House is from Mars and the middle class is from Venus."

Most economists agree that, at least in the short term, spending cuts will cause the economy to further contract, while additional spending could offer a much-needed boost, by creating the demand that's currently lacking. But the pleas from administration allies nonetheless appear to be falling on deaf ears. The signs suggest that the White House views tackling the deficit as the priority, and is therefore reluctant to back further spending measures.

An effort by Senate Democrats to spur job creation through infrastructure spending--an idea President Obama has publicly backed--hasn't gained support from the White House. Instead, the White House criticized the bill for spending too much.

A Washington Post profile of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner from earlier this week reported that he has used his growing influence in the administration to "to press President Obama to curb the nation's soaring debt even at the expense of spending that might more directly spur employment."

On Sunday, Austan Goolsbee, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, downplayed the importance of the May jobs report, and added: "Government is not the central driver of recovery."

Meanwhile, Republicans aren't offering much in the way of job-based economic proposals either. Most economists say that the kind of drastic spending cuts they're pushing would badly stifle growth--likely throwing millions more out of work--at a time when middle-class Americans can least afford it. Even Bernanke, a Republican himself, made that very point this week.

In other words, the chances that Washington will get serious about our jobs crisis any time soon appear increasingly slim. For now, it looks like the nearly 14 million Americans who are out work are on their own.

(President Obama found time to pose for a group photo with the national-championship-winning Auburn University football team, at the White House, June 8, 2011: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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