The Phony Outrage Over Obama's Jobs Council

More meetings are not the answer to fixing unemployment and the economy.


Let me get this straight: The president's jobs council has gone into hibernation—and this is a scandal?

[Photo Gallery: Nation Gripped by Drought]

That's funny, because I don't recall anybody thinking that the jobs council would accomplish much of anything when it came to life in January 2011. Republicans above all have been mordantly skeptical that solutions ginned up in Washington will help revive the economy—even if they come from corporate bigwigs assembled at the behest of the president.

Yet the Republican outrage machine has gone into overdrive since Politico reported that the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness hasn't convened in six months. GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney jabbed at Obama for showing up at 106 fundraisers over the last six months, while not meeting with his jobs advisers once. House Speaker John Boehner lamented that Obama "doesn't even have time to meet with his own jobs council."

So there you have it: The reason unemployment remains way too high and the economy is so weak is that Obama and his advisers aren't holding enough meetings.

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Try that one out on your boss the next time he asks why you're falling behind on your work. More meetings. More jabbering. That's what it will really take to get things done.

Obama's jobs council, headed by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, has actually done what it was supposed to do. It has issued a couple of reports with about 90 recommendations, in total, for ways to boost hiring and energize the economy. These are mostly sensible ideas, including many that businesses have favored for a long time, such as streamlining regulation, improving education, and reforming the corporate tax code.

A few of these ideas have even been implemented. The JOBS Act passed earlier this year contained measures to aid small, fast-growing companies, just as the jobs council recommended. Obama used an executive order to fulfill another council recommendation, speeding up the process for foreigners requesting a visa for travel to the United States. That has apparently worked, with visa approvals far higher than they were last year, and more foreigners visiting America.

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But many of the council's recommendations require the kind of congressional action that's not likely in the current climate of hostility, especially in an election year. One good example: allowing more highly skilled immigrants to remain in the United States, which many economists consider a no-brainer. Yet Congress has dithered on the necessary approvals, which is a shameful abdication of responsibility.

Other big priorities, such as education and tax reform, will require years of work and deep compromise. As with many other challenges affecting the U.S. economy, the problem isn't figuring out what needs to be done. It's doing it. Obama could even credibly respond to critics of his moribund jobs council by saying that the time for meetings is over. There's a plan. It makes sense. Holding more meetings isn't the way to generate action.

Meanwhile, it's well-known what Washington politicians need to do if they really want to fix the economy: resolve the big questions about tax and spending policy that need to be addressed by the end of the year. Develop a credible plan for reducing the national debt. Get started on tax and entitlement reform. And do it now, instead of waiting till the last minute and subjecting everybody to needless drama. When all that is done, maybe we can have more meetings about what to do next.

Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.