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Three ways liberals hope to pass a jobs plan

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Progressives want President Obama to go big on jobs. Really big. But what kind of impact can a big, bold plan really have if congressional Republicans block the legislation, as they’re highly expected to do?

Liberal advocates warn that Obama and the Democrats have more to lose if they simply stick to small-scale measures that appear more likely to attract bipartisan support. They argue that going big is the wisest strategy to pursue — not only politically, in terms of the Democrats’ 2012 strategy, but in terms of ultimately passing liberal policies that will help create jobs. There are three main ways they’re hoping this can happen.

1) Going through Congress: First, some on the left are still holding out hope that Congress can pass some kind of significant jobs package this fall, even in the face of staunch Republican opposition. Michael Ettlinger, vice president of economic policy for the Center for American Progress, says that Obama shouldn’t just go off the assumption that Republicans will shoot down every big idea that Democrats put on the table. “We need to test the boundaries of what Congress is willing to do. And on job creation those boundaries haven’t been tested,” he says. Ettlinger lays out a few big ideas that could attract bipartisan support: “There isn’t some long-standing Republican reluctance to push on infrastructure that would create a lot of jobs quickly. There are energy efficiency proposals that have a lot of support from the business community, and they could be receptive to that pressure.”

Many Republicans haven’t hesitated to reject Obama’s proposals for an infrastructure bank and energy efficiency in the recent past, as well as smaller-scale ideas like extending unemployment benefits . But some of the left insist that the growing public outcry on jobs could force them to reconsider big Democratic ideas only if Dems take the lead to generate that momentum. “You need to create a political force and move forward. When a party puts something forward boldly to address the crisis, it helps increase the odds of creating something meaningful now,” says Jeff Hauser, political media outreach specialist for the AFL-CIO. Advocates and organizers are hopeful that liberal grass-roots events emphasizing jobs could mark “the emergence of a progressive tea party,” according to Roger Hickey, co-founder of the Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive group that organized town halls on jobs across the country this summer, as did the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Above all, liberals say Obama shouldn’t scale down his ideas in advance to meet Republicans halfway. From their point of view, GOP opposition is inevitable, no matter the size of the plan, and if there’s any chance that something will pass, it’s better to start out by putting more on the table. “If you ask for a little you get a little. We need a lot. We need a solution on the scale of the problem,” Ettlinger says.

2) Going through the “supercommittee”: Given the likelihood that any big spending bill will be dead in the water once it hits Congress, some liberals say they’re more hopeful that a jobs package could be part of the supercommittee’s deficit-reduction deal. Though there’s still high skepticism that the bipartisan group will be able to come to an agreement, both parties seemed heartened this week by the appointment of staff director Mark Prater, a GOP tax expert with a long history of brokering bipartisan deals. “If I had to bet, practically, anything big would have to be part of a bigger long-term deficit reduction,” says Ettlinger. Democrats could make the argument that short-term spending on jobs is, in fact, necessary for the long-term deficit to come down, spurring economic growth that will increase revenues down the road, he adds.

The political obstacles, however, remain largely the same. Republicans, including those on the committee, are adamant that outsized spending is the problem, not the solution, to the country’s economic woes. If a deal appears to be within reach, Hill Democrats may be reluctant to upset the balance by insisting on a controversial jobs package. And even if the supercommittee decides to put job proposals on the table, given the group’s mandate, the move would entail bigger spending cuts elsewhere that could upset the left as well. Given all the other programs at stake, including Social Security, there might not be much of a push to put Democratic jobs spending on the agenda. “We are not optimistic about the committee, and we don't accept the basic premises of that entire process,” says the AFL-CIO’s Hauser.

3) Reelecting Obama and waiting until 2013:. As such, other liberals may just be holding out for the 2012 elections for anything substantial to pass Congress again. They want Obama to put a bold jobs plan at the center of his agenda now and at the forefront of his campaign going forward, pointing the finger squarely at Republicans if and when the GOP rejects his ideas. “Republicans are not going to allow adequate growth-oriented plans to pass. . . . [Obama] should take that to the people, to the voters, and if he does it in an effective way it’s likely that he will be reelected and get a Congress that will actually rise to the occasion,” says Hickey, of the Campaign for America’s Future.

After the debt-ceiling showdown this summer, there’s a lingering sense of disappointment on the left for the way that Democratic leaders conceded to the GOP in prioritizing deficit reduction. Obama, they say, needs to put up a fight for bold action on jobs rather than produce a watered-down plan that won’t get him anywhere now — and could lose him a second term later if voters remain uninspired. “The politics of small measures is not going to lead to a different situation in 2013. Leadership isn't governing by preexisting consensus but by showing where we need to go,” says Hauser.

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