Obama Jobs Speech Tough On Rhetoric, Light On Substance

Not surprisingly, there was very little about the President's jobs speech to write home about.

After a summer in which the economy seemed to slow down further week by week, President Obama told Congress last night that it needed to pass his $447 Billion jobs plan right away or he’d take his case to the American people:

WASHINGTON — Mixing politically moderate proposals with a punchy tone, President Obama challenged lawmakers on Thursday to “pass this jobs bill” — a blunt call on Congress to enact his $447 billion package of tax cuts and new government spending designed to revive a stalling economy as well as his own political standing.

Speaking to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama ticked off a list of measures that he emphasized had been supported by both Republicans and Democrats in the past. To keep the proposals from adding to the swelling federal deficit, Mr. Obama also said he would set his sights on a more ambitious target for long-term reduction of the deficit.

“You should pass this jobs plan right away,” the president declared over and over in his 32-minute speech that eschewed Mr. Obama’s trademark oratory in favor of a plainspoken appeal for action — and a few sarcastic political jabs.

With Republicans listening politely but with stone-faced expressions, Mr. Obama said, “The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.”

Though Mr. Obama’s proposals — including an expansion of a cut in payroll taxes and new spending on public works — were widely expected, the package was substantially larger than predicted, and much of the money would flow into the economic bloodstream in 2012. The pace would be similar to that of $787 billion stimulus package passed in 2009, which was spread over more than two years. Analysts said that, if passed, the package would likely lift growth somewhat.

While Republicans did not often applaud Mr. Obama’s plans, party leaders greeted his proposals with a degree of conciliation. “The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration,” Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement. “We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well.”

Ezra Klein summaries the plan, the details of which will not be fully released until a week from Monday, at which time it will be combined with a deficit reduction plan that, the President says, will pay for the entire cost of the bill:

– It completely eliminates the payroll tax for workers, which amount to a $175 billion tax break, and cuts it in half for businesses until they reach the $5 million mark on their payrolls, at a cost of $65 billion. The idea there is to target the tax cut to struggling small businesses, rather than the cash-rich large businesses. It also extends the credit allowing businesses to expense 100 percent of their investments through 2012, which the White House predicts will cost $5 billion.

– It offers $35 billion in aid to states and cities to prevent teacher layoffs, and earmarks $25 billion for investments in school infrastructure.

– It sets aside $50 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure, $15 billion for investments in vacant or foreclosed properties, and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank. It also makes mention of a program to “deploy high-speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of Americans,” but it doesn’t offer many details on that program.

– It provides $49 billion to extend expanded unemployment insurance benefits. $8 billion for a new tax credit to encourage businesses to hire the long-term unemployed, and $5 billion for a new program aimed at supporting part-time and summer jobs for youth and job training for the unemployed.

– It also encourages the Federal Housing Finance Authority to make it easier for underwater homeowners to refinance their mortgages.

This is kind of a kitchen sink approach since it seems to include a little bit of every bit of Keynesian stimulus that one can come up with. There’s also a few things in there for Republicans to like, such as the Payroll Tax Cut extension, but the question for the President is whether there will be enough Members of Congress persuaded by the good to support the plan. The answer, of course, is that this is just the beginning. When the President says “pass this now,” he’s turning a campaign phrase meant to put pressure on Congress to act. The reality is that both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill are going to look at this plan and want to make changes to it, and that’s where the trouble will start.

So far, the reaction from Republicans is fairly muted. John Boehner said the plan “merits consideration.” Eric Cantor said that he expects that the House will take the elements of the President’s plan that have a realistic chance of passing the House and vote on them, rather than voting on the plan as a whole. House Freshman, meanwhile, are being rather muted in their immediate responses to the plan, perhaps in recognition of the fact that their response to the a jobs plan will play a prominent role in their re-election bids a year from now.

What’s going to complicate Obama’s plan, though, is the fact that he made it clear tonight that it would be tied to further deficit reduction and the negotiations of the debt ceiling deal Super-Committee, which started today. In his speech, the President stated that he would be presenting a proposal to pay for the plan by adding on to the automatic cuts that would need to cuts that are supposed to be considered by the Super-Committee. However, he seemed to suggest that this deficit reduction proposal would include some form of tax increases on “the rich,” something that will be a non-starter among House and Senate Republicans. So, instead of coming up with a jobs plan, it seems that what the President has really done is throw a monkey wrench into the Super-Committee that will guarantee either a return to the debt ceiling fight, or the imposition of the automatic cuts that were contained in the debt ceiling deal.

More importantly, by tying his jobs plan to the debt ceiling deal, the President may have inadvertently guaranteed that his plan won’t pass and doomed the Super-Committee:

Obama did not spell out exactly how he would pay for the measures contained in his nearly $450 billion American Jobs Act, but said he would send his proposed specifics in a week to the new congressional supercommittee charged with finding budget savings. White House aides suggested that new deficit spending in the near-term to try to promote job creation would be paid for in the future – the “out years,” in legislative jargon – but they did not specify what would be cut or what revenues they would use.

Essentially, the jobs plan is an IOU from a president and lawmakers who may not even be in office down the road when the bills come due. Today’s Congress cannot bind a later one for future spending. A future Congress could simply reverse it.

Currently, roughly all federal taxes and other revenues are consumed in spending on various federal benefit programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, food stamps, farm subsidies and other social-assistance programs and payments on the national debt. Pretty much everything else is done on credit with borrowed money.

So there is no guarantee that programs that clearly will increase annual deficits in the near term will be paid for in the long term.

If there’s anything the events of July taught us, it’s that Republicans aren’t going to stand for a program that increases the deficit in exchange for promised spending cuts a decade down the road that may never materialize. So, all this plan is likely to accomplish is to make the work of the Super-Committee more difficult and to guarantee that the “draconian” automatic cuts kick in when December rolls around. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but there are plenty of people on Capitol Hill in both parties who are going to be upset if that happens, and even more upset if they whole deal got blown apart because of a “jobs bill” that looks for all the world like a campaign stunt.

In the end, though, this speech wasn’t about proposing something that Congress could actually pass. If that was the goal, then the President would be talking about sitting down with Republicans and coming up with a jobs plan. This is a campaign speech pure and simple, it was about firing up the base and trying to win back the independents. The proposals the President made last night were little more than rehashed versions of things that have been made for the past two years, some of which were actually passed into law in 2009 and failed to do much of anything to stimulate the economy. A few elements of the President’s plan, like the Payroll Tax Cut, might actually have a reasonable chance of passing simply because the GOP’s business friends like them and because the GOP clearly seems to recognize that they cannot afford to be overly obstructionist when it comes to proposals to alleviate the jobs situation. Other parts of the plan won’t survive, though, and when we wake up in September 2012 and the employment rate is still somewhere in the 9% range, President Obama will argue that it happened because Congress didn’t give him everything he wanted.

It may have looked like a State Of The Union Address, but this was the opening battle of the 2012 election campaign, and there’s only going to be more of it to come.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Eric Florack says:

    Obama Jobs Speech Tough On Rhetoric, Light On Substance

    The only surprising thing is that anyone expects anything else from him even after long exposure to it.

    Let’s make this simple: When you make enemies of the corporations, the rich, and the profit motive, why would anyone be shocked when the economy ends up in the crapper?

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Eric…corporate profits are at record highs. Buy a dog, name it Clue, and then you will have one.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    “…passed into law in 2009 and failed to do much of anything to stimulate the economy…”

    This is factually incorrect. If you need to invoke falsehoods to support your ideology it’s not much of an ideology.

  4. @Hey Norm:

    The actual numbers disagree with you.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    They usually do.

  6. Hey Norm says:

    So to bolster your argument you link to your own post in which you put forth an ideologically skewed view of the “facts”. BRILLIANT!!!
    You do seem to have Eric convinced though…so you have that going for you…which is nice!!!

  7. Sam says:

    “Pass this bill now” “Pass this bill immediately.” “Pass this legislation right away.” Over and over and over again.

    Translation: Pass this bill that has not yet been written, published, disseminated or debated and pass it without amendment, without discussion because I am Barack Hussein Obama and I am your dictator.
    You must pass this bill right away in order for you to see what’s in it!

  8. Hey Norm says:

    I’m betting Jan, JTea, and Drew agree with you too. So good on ya, Doug.

  9. Andy says:

    @Hey Norm:

    As far as I’m aware, there’s only been one study that measures the previous stimulus’ actual effects and it found that it didn’t do a whole lot. Every other analysis, including the White Houses and the CBO’s, used modeling to estimate the stimulus effects. Neither is definitive proof one way or another, but I tend to trust analysis based on actual effects than analysis based on modeled effects.

  10. Sam says:

    A perfect cartoon explaining the Obama jobs plan.


  11. Andy says:

    As far as this speech goes, where are the jobs? A lot of the proposals in it are things that were tried and didn’t work. What makes anyone think more of the same will be effective? The infrastructure portion is short on details and such projects usually take a few years to get rolling. I don’t know why some continue to believe that infrastructure is an answer to our near-term employment problem. Much of it is to prevent more job losses among state and local workers or extend benefits for the unemployed. While those may be good proposals in their own right, they don’t increase employment.

    Maybe I missed something, but I don’t see much in here that’s likely to actually result in a significant number of new jobs.

  12. Sam says:

    President Downgrade ObamAA+ siad many times, “we need to put the teachers back to work”

    The first stimulus kept them in their union jobs and therefore kept the dues flowing into the union bosses pockets.

    This is nothing but another union funding proposal to keep the union dues flowing to the like of the violent thug Trunka and the radical thug Hoffa.

  13. Gerry W. says:


    I do not see much myself. Two problems we have is housing which would produce millions of jobs and no one can do much about that, and globalization and no one is doing anything about that. These are long term issues and the parties are not addressing them. Bill Gross of Pimco says it is globalization and automation. And Tom Friedman, I think, has the best answer, but it is long term and that is what we need to focus on. That is the following:

    Cut spending which democrats don’t like.
    Raise revenue which republicans don’t like.
    Educate the population
    Attract the best immigration and talent
    Best infrastructure in which we are behind some 2 trillion dollars.
    Best rules of capital spending
    and government funded research.

    We gave up some 6 million jobs or 57,000 factories over the past decade and we used up all the stimulus. There is not much else to go on. The democrats are spending in useless short term issues, the republicans want more tax cuts even though we have been on tax cuts, and the fed is printing money for low interest rates and a low dollar to export when we lost 1/3 of our manufacturing. And none of that is working.

    The problem we face is 2 billion cheap laborers, automation and the loss of jobs, lean principles and the loss of jobs, and mergers and consolidation and the loss of jobs. And the other problem is what kind of jobs we can create? Any widget can be made anywhere? Any information can be derived from anywhere? What will replace the millions of jobs we gave away? How do you support small business in communities where factories are closed? And no one is answering these questions.

  14. Gerry W. says:


    On the other side, the republicans want tax cuts to the rich and the middle class loses. We have been doing this for 10 years. It isn’t working if you have globalization and 2 billion cheap laborers who want jobs just as much as we do.

  15. PD Shaw says:

    “I’m betting Jan, JTea, and Drew agree with you too”

    As does Krugman: “if stimulus seems to have failed, it’s because it was never actually tried. “

  16. WR says:

    Shockingly, Doug’s opinion of the speech exactly matches his prediction, even though the plan itself is much larger than the rumored one he was writing about yesterday. One wonders if he even watched…

  17. john personna says:

    Everybody can give stock replies, and many of you do.

    It’s kind of amazing that the right doesn’t celebrate a plan which at its center, is a tax cut.

    And those on the left should probably grieve that no broad, serious, job creation is attempted. Teachers? That’s an attempt to shore up declining schools budgets, not a national jobs plan.

    It’s like “shorter right” is “we don’t want it our way!” and “shorter left” is “you don’t even want it your way!”


  18. john personna says:

    shorter john: Austerity Kabuki, Act III

  19. anjin-san says:

    why would anyone be shocked when the economy ends up in the crapper?

    Ends up in the crapper? When Obama took office the economy had to climb quite a few flights of stairs just to reach the level of the crapper.

    Thanks for the daily does of stupid though. You never fail to deliver.

  20. john personna says:

    Related: The unemployment facts we’d rather not face

    It highlights that factoid we’ve heard before:

    An alarming view of prospective young employees comes from the Defense Department, which has found that 75% of Americans aged 17 to 24 are not qualified to serve in the armed forces. There are three main reasons.

    But it puts this in terms of the broader economy … are there that many OTHER places they can work?

  21. Boyd says:

    @john personna: On a (somewhat) positive note, in your linked article it appears that the primary reason while 17- to 24-year-olds don’t qualify for military service is due to health issues. Few jobs, especially well-paying jobs, require the sort of physical fitness the military requires.

    Not that health issues aren’t a factor at all, but I think a huge portion of that “over half of young adults” won’t be disqualified from most civilian jobs, so that puts a pretty big dent in that 75% figure. This is not intended to undercut the point at all, but merely to point out that maybe it’s not as bad as it may seem at first glance.

  22. Polaris says:

    Well, it would seem I was right. Obama has proposed something that almost certainly won’t work, but is almost definately dead on arrival in the House.

    I don’t think Obama ever has or had any intention of getting his proposal passed as long as he (thinks anyway) can blame congress for the economy after it doesn’t.


  23. john personna says:


    I get ya, though I think in most jobs physical fitness helps.

  24. john personna says:


    Interesting. Do you oppose all tax cuts? All payroll tax cuts? Or just those proposed by Dems?

  25. Boyd says:

    @john personna: Point 1: “helps” is greatly different from “required.”

    Point 2: I did think of one large non-military employer of young people that requires an elevated level of physical fitness: The US Air Force.


  26. rodney dill says:

    @john personna:

    It’s kind of amazing that the right doesn’t celebrate a plan which at its center, is a tax cut.

    If I believed Obama, then I would agree. Right now we don’t know what is at the center of the plan, we will find out next week. (unless someone already has seen it, I haven’t yet). We just know that Obama says it is a tax cut.

  27. Polaris says:


    Who said I supported or opposed anything? All I said was that Obama presented a plan that was absolutely (or at least nearly so) sure to be dead on arrival in congress for political reasons.

    I think that’s the correct interpretation of his speech.

    As for payroll tax cuts, that depends. I wouldn’t oppose them necessarily, but I don’t think they’d help very much because people on payroll don’t actually drive the economy. People that pay capital gains taxes do.


  28. john personna says:


    I suppose it matters whether the current military cut-off is “awesome” shape, or just “good” shape. If kids aren’t in “good” shape, that will affect every job they do.

  29. Boyd says:

    @john personna: I’ve never held a job which came close to requiring me to be able to complete the Navy’s Physical Fitness Test (the least demanding of all the services’ tests) that I last took in my late 30s. Also, I’m of the opinion that one doesn’t need to be anywhere close to “good” shape for the vast majority of jobs. For confirmation, all I have to do is look around me at work, or in other workplaces of various sorts.

    Or look in the mirror, for that matter.

  30. Polaris says:

    @john personna:

    I suppose it matters whether the current military cut-off is “awesome” shape, or just “good” shape. If kids aren’t in “good” shape, that will affect every job they do.

    By today’s standards (esp w/r/t to body weight and body fat percentage) it’s “awsome” shape. That’s a reflection of how badly out of shape most people are and how little is physically required for most job (even low end ones).


  31. john personna says:

    It was not hard to find a study quantifying my intuition:

    Newswise — Employees’ levels of physical fitness and activity significantly affect the quality and quantity of work performed, suggests a study in the January Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

  32. Drew says:

    Pass this bill NOW! And the shamwow will clean up the Pennsylvania floods in just two seconds.

    But Wait! There’s more!!

    Pass this bill NOW! And the Ginzu knife will cut through steel just like butter……..

  33. Boyd says:

    @john personna: But as I said earlier, “significantly affect the quality and quantity of work” is vastly different from “required.”

  34. Rob in CT says:


    At least that was amusing.

  35. Polaris says:

    @john personna: As boyd just said above, that doesn’t show what you think it does. It says that people in shape work better than people that are not. That’s a conclusion I have no difficulty accepting as a premise.

    It does not show that being physically unfit by military standards is a significant (or any realistic) bar to civilian employment.


  36. john personna says:

    @Boyd: @Polaris:

    Was this trip really necessary?

    LOL. I’ve been worrying about the lack of fitness … and what you’ve been telling me that if it isn’t “required” I shouldn’t worry?

  37. john personna says:

    (If you think that I was worried about what was “required” you’ve been misreading me.)

  38. Boyd says:

    @john personna: The reason for the disconnect is because you’ve taken yourself off on a tangent, and Polaris and I have refused to follow you.

    You broached this topic originally by posting a link to a study that said 75% of American youths aren’t qualified to serve in the US military. I responded by saying we should take heart since over half of their disqualifications are because of health issues, such as being overweight, or being unable to pass a PFT, as well as other health issues.

    It’s very clear that you have to be a much better-than-average health specimen to join the military in the United States, so my point is that American youth should still be able to qualify for many civilian jobs, because those jobs don’t, by and large, require the same level of physical fitness as the military.

    You asked:

    …are there that many OTHER places they can work?

    And I answered with a resounding “Yes!” with my rationale for that answer. Capisce?

  39. Boyd says:

    And in the interests of full disclosure, lest anyone think I consider myself to be a superior physical specimen, I doubt the the Boyd that joined the Navy at age 18 way back in the day would be physically acceptable to today’s Navy.

    And the Boyd of 2011 shore wouldn’t qualify physically.

  40. john personna says:


    It’s only a tangent if you think hiring an unfit or obese worker is “done and done.”

    Or, if you think their productivity and future wages will be unaffected.

    Economists are looking right now at the ways “coming of age in a recession” affects lifetime earnings. Surely “hiring in unfit” does also.

    Surely, a less fit workforce affects future GDP.

  41. Boyd says:

    @john personna: I think we’re getting to the point where we’re talking past each other, John, but I’ll just reiterate your question:

    …are there that many OTHER places they can work?

    …and note that you made no mention of productivity, future wages or anything else of that nature. I submit that you’re now asking a different question (not saying it’s not a good question, mind you). This is why I called it a tangent, because you changed the question.

  42. Polaris says:


    As Boyd stated it’s still a tangent and probably worth a topic in it’s own right under “Underemployment” but I (and I believe Boyd thought I don’t want to speak for him) were simply saying that just because you were unfit by US Military standards didn’t seem to be a bar from getting employment (a job) which was germane to this particular topic.


    Edit PS: By the physical standards of the USAF that I joined 20 years ago (let alone today), the Polaris of today would be hopelessly physically unfit.

  43. Boyd says:

    @Polaris: Indeed, exactly my point. Just because you can’t get in the Army (Really? You can’t even get in the Army?) doesn’t mean you can’t get a job at all.

    And I’m going to keep plaguing you folks with my interservice jabs until I get some sort of a response. I’ve got the Marines, Coast Guard, Public Health Service and NOAA to still go through, so I’m well armed! No, wait, too pun-ish.

    I’ve got plenty of ammunition! No, same issue.

    Umm…I’ve got a bagful of interservice insults, and I know how to use them!

  44. john personna says:


    I said:

    “…are there that many OTHER places they can work?”

    and then you said:

    ” Few jobs, especially well-paying jobs, require the sort of physical fitness the military requires.”

    and then I said:

    “I get ya, though I think in most jobs physical fitness helps.”

    That was a moderate claim, but you wanted to back up, and hold to “required” being all that mattered.

  45. john personna says:

    (If you had said “I get ya, fitness affects job performance” then we could have saved this long trip.)

  46. Boyd says:

    @john personna: No, your original question asked if young folks can find work. I said that, based on the analysis in your linked article, it seems that they can find work outside of the military, since physical requirements were the majority of failures, and it seems pretty obvious that most civilian jobs don’t have similar requirements. Then you changed to “but it helps if they’re physically fit.” My response was, and is, “But they can still find other places to work, regardless of their level of physical fitness.”

    As I said before, talking past each other.

  47. john personna says:


    And so saying “I get ya” and moving on is not allowed, mr. thread police?

  48. john personna says:

    (“No son, you can’t move on. When you acknowledge hiring criteria may be lower, you must stop right there. Don’t even twitch.”)

  49. Boyd says:

    @john personna: No, I just took forever to compose my previous response. I didn’t see your 15:25 post until after I had posted my 15:45 comment. This is why I don’t blog anymore. I write, and rewrite, and edit, and rewrite, and it was like a full-time job because I took so long writing my posts.

    And no, don’t you dare twitch! I’ve got a 2 lb trigger on this here pistola, pardner.

  50. john personna says:

    Well alrighty then ;-), I was assuming the “I get ya” had registered.

  51. Boyd says:

    @john personna: Reasonable assumption. My approach to composition, unfortunately, is unreasonable.

  52. DavidL says:

    Two points.

    First, the dawdle and then pass the bill without even reading it scheme has not exactly been a great success. It gave us Stimulus I, Obama Care and Dodd Frank. Obama would not curtail his vaction to work on his pivot to jobs, but now demands that Congress pass the bill sight unseen.

    Second, I am tempted to suggest that the entire American Jobs Act be passed as submitted by the President, and funded entirely by eliminating, in total, Obama Care. This would actuallly siimulate the economy. If entitlements are to on the chopping block, might as well chop off the Mother of all Entitlements.

  53. lahru says:

    I believe that Obama’s bill is better than the Republican’s bill to help with unemployment.