Earl Ofari Hutchinson's take on the politics of the day
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In an exclusive interview on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour with host Earl Ofari Hutchinson on KTYM 1460 AM Los Angeles on September 2, former economic policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
EOH: Based on your experience, what do you expect to come out of President Obama’s upcoming speech?
JB: I think you will hear a robust set of ideas. The white house understands the urgency and I think it’s amplified by a couple of factors. They spent far too long dithering around with the debt ceiling debate, talking past what most working families care about right now; jobs, pay checks, living standards. There is a very tough economy out there, the August jobs report was a big zero, unemployment stuck at 9.1 percent, a big hole to fill. In terms of components of the plan, I think the president is going to try to argue for extension for policies already in the current economy; a 2% payroll tax cut, and extending unemployment insurance benefits, along with fast acting ideas on the infrastructure side, perhaps a job training program, and maybe a hiring tax credit to nudge employers.
EOH: What do you think about putting the government directly into the business of job creation?
JB: I think there’s something to that. All the indirect measures that we tend to favor, i.e. give somebody a tax cut and hope that they spend it on domestic goods instead of imports; those measures are generally less effective than the more direct ideas. One of the things that would help us right now that is off the political radar is helping the state and local governments. What we see in the reports is that we add private sector jobs but loose public sector jobs; teachers, police, firefighters. Every month we are shutting those jobs, about 400 thousand over the last 12 months, opposed to a couple of million added on the private side. That’s not enough. If you want to address the pain, you have to look where it is. Those public sector layoffs are hurting us.
EOH: Is there an inherent contradiction in that on one hand you have to spend, but you have a congress that is penny-pinching?
JB: “Inherent contradiction” is a nice word for it. The Vice President is right, you can talk about what you should do, then you can talk about what you could do in normal times, which is in the plan that I outlined. It’s crafted to be acceptable to partisans on both sides of the aisle, and move the needle on unemployment, which is exactly what you want to see right now. These are not normal times. If the stance of the congress is to simply block anything the President comes up with, no matter how useful it would be to the economy, and block it because you don’t want to see the president succeed on his jobs measures, the only choice for the President and Vice President is to explain to the American people in clear, punchy terms precisely who is standing between them and their economic opportunities.
EOH: Do you feel the President’s jobs proposals will be held hostage to politics?
JB: That’s what I’m worried about. With the jobs report this morning I had a sinking feeling because it was such a lousy report and thanks to the congressional blockage, we’ve got handcuffs on. We’ve got a big problem and the path to fix it is blocked. You have to ask yourself has political dysfunction devolved to the point where we are incapable of self-correction. A critical factor of any system is that it has to be able to figure out what’s wrong, and take action to fix it. The gridlock and dysfunction is precluding our ability to self correct and I find it frightening.
EOH: What would President Obama and Vice President Biden do if they did not have all these political handcuffs?
JB: I think they would do a lot, and they have done a lot. The largest recovery act in the history of the nation, health care reform, financial reform. Yet the depth of the economic hole the administration inherited is so deep that even though those measures prevented a depression, we haven’t achieved escape velocity. The economy is still under the burden of the factors that brought on that recession. Their personal inclinations are in tune with where most of America is. The President understands how absent the economic opportunity is for folks who are struggling. If there are external factors in the economy blocking them, they are not going to be able to get there. President Obama’s vision is that everyone has a fair chance from the start. He knows they don’t. He would like to improve that but he has had a great deal of political blockage every step of the way.
EOH: What is the political consequences of not being able to please both sides no matter what he does?
JB: He can’t let himself be squeezed that way. I feel when you’re stuck in between that kind of a rock and a hard place, you have rise above the fight because it’s a fight you can’t win. All you end up doing is getting off track. The President’s feelings about what has to happen are exactly the right ones for this moment in time. He has to get above the Congress and this dysfunctional bickering. He has to go directly to the American people and explain with great conviction precisely who is standing between them and their economic opportunities simply to gain political traction.
EOH: Do you expect President Obama to do that, and how will it be received by the American public?
JB: I think it will be received extremely well and I think he will do it extremely well. This is a man who can directly connect with people and talk about these issues in extremely compelling ways. I think you are going to see him get out there and make a great case and set up the dynamics for the 2012 election, because it’s going to be about whether you want to go back to a road map that got us into this mess, or plot a new course that actually helps people.