At 1 p.m., President Barack Obama will give a speech on the economy at Knox College in Illinois. It’s the first in a series of economic speeches Obama will give in the coming weeks.
The White House has set up a website to promote the speeches. So far, it has no real policy content. But it does have this chart.
The White House brags that the economy has added 7.2 million private sector jobs over the last 40 months — a pace of 180,000 jobs per month.
That sounds like a lot of jobs. But we should be adding about 125,000 jobs a month just to keep unemployment flat as the population grows.
In 2012, when Mitt Romney claimed that his economic plan would add 12 million jobs over four years, liberals mocked him, saying that economists already expected that much job growth without any policy change.
Now Obama is touting a much slower job growth pace, one that reflects how tepid our years-long economic recovery has been.
Of course, the president recognises that there is “more work to do.” His speeches will address not just “the progress we’ve made” since 2008 but the “work that’s left to do to rebuild an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead.”
But as Ben White notes, it’s not clear whether the speeches will contain significant new policy proposals.
We’ve been here before: the White House has done the “pivot to jobs” thing so many times that in 2011, Ben Smith was already cataloging the previous pivots. This keeps happening over and over because the underlying political situation doesn’t change: to the extent the White House has an economic agenda, Republicans in Congress don’t want to enact it.
It’s likely the White House’s real goal with these speeches is one they can’t say out loud: Defend status-quo policy, and the tepid recovery it is allowing, against any future crises that Republicans might manufacture.
Republicans in Congress will not pass an infrastructure bill or cooperate on Obamacare implementation because the White House asks them to. They will, however, have to pass two items in the fall: a “continuing resolution” that keeps the government open, and a debt ceiling increase that lets it borrow more money.
There is no real upside in these fights. A “good outcome” is that policy stays the same and the economy is undisrupted. But downside risk is real: Republicans could disrupt the financial markets by creating another scare about whether the government will make payments on time, or they could succeed in attaching austerity measures that destimulate the economy.
With only worse options than the status quo available, the White House has to make the case that we haven’t been doing so badly with the policies we have. Hence the brag about the last four years’ job growth. Unemployment is falling, a bit. Debt-to-GDP is stabilizing, albeit at a ratio in the mid-70s. Housing has recovered, somewhat. Do we really want to do anything to disrupt that?
The legislative fights of the next four months are going to be good for me and anyone else who covers U.S. economic policy for a living. For the rest of the country, they will be pretty depressing.
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