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3Qs: On the road to job recovery?

Addressing both houses of Congress on Thursday night, President Obama introduced the “American Jobs Act,” a plan to help stimulate the troubled U.S. economy and encourage job creation. Obama urged Congress to act quickly to pass the bill and made an effort to include programs that have been supported by both parties. We asked William Crotty, the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life and professor of political science, to provide his perspective on the jobs plan and what role politics might play in its success or failure.

Obama emphasized that the ideas he presented in the American Jobs Act are concepts that have been supported by both parties. Do you agree? Will Obama’s strategy minimize push back from the Republican Party?

The jobs stimulus proposals made by President Obama are ideas that have been at various times supported by one or both political parties. Despite this fact, it will not help to minimize the opposition to the enactment of the plan. Washington is too polarized for that. In his speech, President Obama made a significant effort to propose ideas that have often been favored Republican programs.

Overall, the consensus is that the American Jobs Act is a modest series of proposals likely to be of some benefit, but not to make a serious dent in the unemployment problem. Under the proposed plan, the government is expected to lose about $240 billion in tax revenues for the coming year. The continued cutting of federal revenues may have a modest impact on jobs, if any, but it raises concerns about the direction the administration is going in attempting to get the Republican House to endorse an economic stimulus package. Combined with the promises made to cut benefits (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security), fundamental issues underlying the social welfare state are being raised as to the role of government and its ability to service public needs.

All in all, the plan will be open to the partisan divide that has characterized Washington during the Obama years.

What are the political stakes for President Obama as he hits the road to sell his jobs plan to the American public, and will his pitch ultimately determine whether he or Congress is blamed should high unemployment continue?

President Obama’s promise to bypass Congress and take his proposals to the country could be effective if he were able to recapture the dynamism that characterized his 2008 campaign. This is most unlikely. It is a difficult sell to motivate people to contact their congressional representatives in the strength needed to actually enact a program. President Obama has committed to this strategy a number of times before. Results have been sporadic. There is a serious question as to whether he will actually stay the course, given his past record. There is also a question as to whether the Tea Party/Conservative Republicans would respond to such public pressure. They have made the point repeatedly that they are committed to an economic ideology regardless of the shifts in public opinion and one that they believe is critical to saving the nation.

What impact do you expect Obama’s job act will have on the 2012 election?

I see this as part of the election process, and it is best understood in this context. The president wants to appear committed to increasing employment and dealing with the economy. He and the Democrats also would like to put the Republicans in Congress on the defensive, to be seen as the basic obstacle to an improved economic situation. The White House has indicated it believes it has hit on a win-win strategy. If the president’s program is enacted and unemployment reduced significantly, both of which are unlikely, he will take the credit. If the plan fails, he and the Democrats will blame the obstructionism of Republicans in Congress.