Where are the jobs? That's the question that Republican congressional leaders, and millions of Americans, are asking these days. So far, the answer from President Obama is: They are coming, but not very quickly.
Asked that question by U.S. News last week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, "We are looking at doing everything humanly possible" to save existing jobs and to create new ones, and many ideas are under consideration. To advance the idea-generation process and demonstrate concern to the public, President Obama met last week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. And even though no plan was finalized, administration sources said many ideas are under consideration, including deeper tax cuts for businesses, special tax credits for creating new jobs, adding programs to create public-works employment, extending unemployment insurance, expanding food-stamp coverage, broadening healthcare benefits for the unemployed, and providing more assistance to state governments.
This week, Democratic congressional leaders floated another proposal: extending the expiring $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers and, for the first time, also making it available to current homeowners who buy new houses. Under one option, the criteria would remain the same in both categories. The full credit would be limited to individuals with incomes up to $75,000 a year or couples who make $150,000. Lesser credits would be available on a sliding scale for individuals with incomes from $75,000 to $95,000 or couples making from $150,000 to $170,000. The theory is that such a program would promote home sales and increase job-creation throughout the economy.
Meanwhile, the political infighting is growing ever more intense in Washington. "It is now evident that the massive 'stimulus' spending bill enacted months ago has been unsuccessful," House GOP leader John Boehner and other Republicans wrote last week in letters to Obama and Pelosi. "Washington borrowed a trillion dollars from our nation's children and grandchildren for this legislation, which was supposed to create jobs and keep the national unemployment rate from rising above 8 percent." Instead, the national unemployment rate actually climbed to 9.8 percent in September, up from 9.7 percent in August and the highest in 26 years.
Many Democrats concede that public concern is real and justified. "There's only one number that really counts in terms of politics, and that's unemployment," says Democratic pollster Mark Penn, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and to Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. "Ten percent is a tripwire for public-opinion fallout. If unemployment hits 10 percent nationally, that means 17 percent unemployment in a lot of places in the Midwest."
Administration officials argue that Obama's $787 billion stimulus package from earlier this year and his other economic measures prevented a terrible situation from getting worse. When the government announced that 263,000 jobs were lost in September, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was quick to point out that this was an improvement from the beginning of the year, when the economy was shedding 700,000 jobs per month.
The problem is that there are real people behind those statistics, and their patience is wearing thin.