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Obama’s jobs speech: deja vu all over again?

at 06:00 AM ET, 09/09/2011


(LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)

“Pass this jobs bill”

— President Obama, Sept. 8, 2011

At first blush, President Obama’s jobs speech Thursday night did not present many opportunities for fact checking. He did not try to boast about what he had accomplished — given the grim economic situation that might have been a bad move — or try to place the blame for the current situation on his predecessor.

Many details about his jobs bill are still sparse. He tossed out various claims about how much Americans or businesses would receive in tax cuts, and the numbers appeared reasonable, but that’s why the details matter. We were amused that one specific construction project he cited — a bridge between Ohio and Kentucky — just happened to be the states of his two chief nemeses — House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Certainly, Republicans might object to the way Obama framed some of the choices — “tax loopholes for oil companies” or “tax credits for small businesses.” Or “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires” or “teachers back to work.” (Note: we generated some controversy some months back when we criticized the president for the “millionaires and billionaires” phrase.)

We note with approval that Obama changed his language on stalled trade bills. We recently gave him a Pinocchio for saying it was Congress’s fault, but in the speech he used more neutral language, saying “it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements.” But his claim that regulatory reform will save “billions of dollars in the next few years” is dubious. Every president promises that.

The speech mostly gave us a sense of déjà vu. From the president’s language, you would never know that Congress already has acted under his watch to save jobs — the $800 billion stimulus plan passed shortly after he took office.

“Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs,” Obama proclaimed in a speech to a similar joint session of Congress on Feb. 24, 2009. We’re not sure about the jobs saved part, but the country has certainly not created net jobs since then — there are almost 2 million fewer jobs since he made those remarks 2 1/2 years ago. That gives a sense of the economic burden he will carry into his reelection campaign.

So here’s a pop quiz. Which of the following quotes came from the 2009 speech, and which quotes came from the speech this week?

1. “More than 90 percent of these jobs will be in the private sector — jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.”

2. “It will lead to new jobs for construction workers, teachers, veterans, first responders, young people and the long-term unemployed.”

3. “It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values — Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who refinances today can save nearly $2,000 per year on their mortgage.”

4. “We’re going to work with federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near 4 percent — a step that can put more than $2,000 a year in a family’s pocket, and give a lift to an economy still burdened by the drop in housing prices.”

5. “Ask yourselves — where would we be right now if the people who sat here before us decided not to build our highways and our bridges; our dams and our airports? What would this country be like if we had chosen not to spend money on public high schools, or research universities, or community colleges? Millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, had the opportunity to go to school because of the GI Bill. Where would we be if they hadn’t had that chance?”

6. “History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.”

7. “It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings.”

8. “We have already identified $2 trillion in savings over the next decade.”

9. “The only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world.”

10. “If we provide the right incentives and support — and if we make sure our trading partners play by the rules — we can be the ones to build everything from fuel-efficient cars to advanced biofuels to semiconductors that are sold all over the world.”

11. “To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security.”

12. “But with an aging population and rising health care costs, we are spending too fast to sustain the program. And if we don’t gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won’t be there when future retirees need it. We have to reform Medicare to strengthen it.”

(Answers: 2009 speech contained 1, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 11)

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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