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The Missing Jobs Agenda in the Jobs-Focused White House

While it’s shocking how no attention was paid to housing in Peter Baker’s takeout on the Obama Administration and jobs, it’s perhaps more shocking how small a role jobs actually play in the piece. Obama is described as frustrated, ticked that there are no real ideas at his disposal to deal with the still-extant jobs crisis. But the ideas themselves are absent. There’s quite a bit of cattiness about Larry Summers and Peter Orszag and backbiting amongst his economic team, but no real explanation of what the Administration will now back as a means to actually get large numbers of Americans employed. Christina Romer admits the stimulus package was too small and that the Administration should have been more aggressive in calling for additional measures, but not only did the White House stop that approach as soon as the “green shoots” emerged, they continued to basically remain silent on that front for the next year. I have no idea what the jobs agenda is for the White House right now; nobody does. Not even them, if I read this article right. I guess “competitiveness” is what they’re going with. Shades of Whip Inflation Now.

This is contrasted by new polling information showing that a focus on jobs is really all the public wants at this stage. The President’s preference for “what works” and accomplishing some kind of tricky legislative compromise with Republicans misses a huge opportunity to castigate the opposition for failing to address jobs at all with their initial actions.

With Republicans Congressional leaders claiming a mandate to cut spending, and beltway pundits focused on deficit reduction, and the president wooing business, voters are making very clear that they want one top priority – jobs.

Both parties should be on notice: voters are looking for action on jobs. They are looking for a bold strategy to put America’s economy back on track.

And the president and the Republican leaders in Congress should also understand that voters, across the political spectrum, do not want politicians messing with Social Security and Medicare.

A quick look at the data shows that the public wants only to return to work. They aren’t interested in some grand bargain that will cut their hard-earned benefits and not work in their interest.

Republicans say that Social Security is no longer the “third rail’ in politics, but they could not be listening to voters. They have no mandate for cutting Social Security – and the voters have no appetite for it. A large majority of 56 percent opposes the [deficit] commission’s recommendation to raise the retirement age to 69 by 2075. An almost identically large majority oppose the proposal to reduce future benefits of those now entering the labor force. Young people are even more opposed to these proposals than the elderly – in case the Republicans plan to take up inter-generational warfare.

And yet, you have the House Minority Whip, Steny Hoyer, making googly eyes at Medicare cuts, and the White House considering the same on Social Security. It’s quite a bit worse than not having a jobs agenda – the possible agenda moving forward is actively harmful on the policy and the politics.

“I have to tell you, I have been on the phone to the very, very, very highest levels of the Obama administration, and the responses that I am getting are not assuring,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said in an exclusive interview. “What I’m told is that no definitive decisions have been made on the issue of Social Security – I expect that is probably true.”

“What I’m hearing does not reassure me – that we have a president who is not prepared to defend the heart and soul of what the Democratic Party has been about since Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” said Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.

But Washington has a total disconnect on this issue – witness the Center for American Progress pushing their own Social Security cut.

Richard Trumka laid this out very clearly today, in a speech at the National Press Club. The future of political success in America lies in getting the nation back to work, not in Very Serious Dealmaking that leaves the middle class adrift, or concessions to corporate actors who never had it so good.

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David Dayen

David Dayen