James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

The White House and jobs stimulus

Dec 3, 2009 20:07 UTC

From Marc Ambinder:

Really: the White House does not seem to believe that (a) anything sensible to meanginfully reduce the unemployment rate can be proposed, completed and paid for — and executed — by next November. Nothing, in any event, that wouldn’t jeopardize recovery in the long-term. This frustrates people in the party to no end, as well it might.

How Obama is freezing the job market

Dec 3, 2009 10:20 UTC

Let’s assume that the much-hyped White House “jobs summit” turns out to be a free-flowing exchange of ideas and views. Could happen. If that’s the case, then President Barack Obama shouldn’t be shocked if a few CEOs dare suggest that the sweeping-yet-stalled Obama agenda might … actually … you know … no offense, Mr. President … be contributing to the jobless recovery. (The union and academic invitees will protest mightily, natch.)

CEOs are saying as much amongst themselves. At a recent symposium, Intel boss Paul Otellini, a contributor to both parties, expressed concern about the “amount of variability in the system” created by the state of policy flux in healthcare, energy and tax policy. “It is very difficult to make a hiring decision,” he said. General Electric chief executive Jeffery Immelt, a strong supporter of Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal, added he would just like to “know what the rules are.”

All in all, a disturbing replay of the 1930s when FDR’s big changes left business reeling with uncertainty and confusion. The “devil you don’t know” and all that.

Small business is certainly with Big Business on this, particularly regarding the mercurial nature of healthcare reform. The substance of ObamaCare continues to morph daily — from the state of the public option to employer mandates to financing expanded coverage – as Senate leader Harry Reid scrounges for votes. On energy, the president will make big promises at Copenhagen even though cap-and-trade looks stillborn in the Senate.

As for financial reform, Senate banking committee chair Chris Dodd has proposed sweeping changes, while the Tim Geithner-Barney Frank version in the House seems beamed in from a universe where the credit crisis never happened. Compromise could prove elusive. Even Obama’s tax reform panel has delayed releasing its findings.

So Corporate America is about to enter 2010 – an election year – with the fate of the ambitious Obama agenda uncertain. Maybe the only thing for sure is that whatever job-creation package the White House and congressional Democrats eventually gin up, it will likely be a $300 billion or so combo of more transportation spending, more aid to cash-strapped state and local governments and some sort of hiring tax credit.

(And that gets at another critical flaw with the jobs summit. As any of the executives could tell Obama, brainstorming sessions are often the tool-of-choice of the highly ineffective manager. Such confabs are frequently used to give team members the illusion that they are contributing to the idea generation process. In fact, the manager has already made his decision. And that is, more or less, the case with Obama. At the very least, don’t expect any CEO suggestions of lowering personal, corporate or investment tax rates to get even a whiff of consideration from the White House.)

Of course, Obama could pivot and revamp healthcare reform into a more incremental, targeted bill that might actually pass with decent margins in both houses. And while cap-and-trade is gasping for air, a deficit-neutral carbon tax (offsetting payroll taxes) might actually pull in significant Republican support. Maybe even a fat payroll or corporate tax cut.

But the tendency toward election-year gridlock is fast approaching. And for frazzled Corporate America and a frozen job market, gridlock – and the uncertainty that goes with it – is not good.

COMMENT

Some would say that all of this is being done by Obama in order to destroy our way of life and impose socailism on us. Porgressives say “nothing like a good crisis to impose your will”. Thats about the only logical reason I can come up with for all of the stupid things that are being done. Hope I am wrong.

Posted by Ray Hull | Report as abusive

Is the ambitious Obama agenda freezing the US labor market? CEOs think so

Dec 1, 2009 17:17 UTC

Just took a break from the Innovation Economy Conference sponsored by the Aspen Institute. Particularly interesting was a joint Q&A with GE’s Jeff Immelt and Intel’s Paul Otellini.  The latter said he was concerned about the “amount of variability in the system” created by Washington. Fluctuating policy when it comes to healthcare, energy, taxes. “It is very difficult for anyone to make a hiring decision” when the future is so uncertain, he said. Immelt added he would just like to “know what the rules are.” About ObamaCare, Immelt said healthcare “costs probably aren’t going to be coming down.” He is also worried about cost shifting due to proposed Medicare cuts

COMMENT

WOW, Jimmy-P, we must have been on a parallel today, I was just talking to my boss about this afternoon, so many variables, unknowns, rules changing daily.Our company is treating it like “crossing the desert” the more water you keep, the slower you sip it, the longer you can last.24 months into the recession, and is there anything in sight, “less-bad” is no longer good enough, or might this be the “new-norm”. 2.8% 3rd quarter, minus all the spending, cash-4-clunkers, FTHB Credit, all the road projects, and we only squeak out 2.8%? What now, the crack is almost gone!?

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Why the U.S. may have a long-term unemployment problem

Nov 30, 2009 20:27 UTC

Wachovia’s John Silvia:

In recent years, permanent layoffs have surpassed temporary layoffs and this is reflected in the rapid rise in the mean duration of unemployment. In addition, the disparity of unemployment by education levels signals that the demand of employers for more highly educated workers does not fit well with the available supply of workers. Current policy initiatives have perverse economic effects. Health care mandates will likely raise the cost of labor and thereby discourage hiring.

Second, the increase in the minimum wage has clearly negatively impacted hiring teenage workers evident in the recent increase in teenage unemployment rates. Cap-and-trade will likely increase the cost of energy and transportation for employers and thereby reduce any funds left to hire workers. At present, the uncertainty about potential micro policies is more than offsetting any positive impact on jobs from the fiscal stimulus.

COMMENT

Just lost my job of 32 years along with 62 others in my department.Our job losses were DIRECTLY attributable to impact on the business from new federal regulations enacted under the Obama/Pelosi/Reid administration.Hope for change, VOTE for change… and soon.America can’t take much more anti-business/anti-competitive/anti-weal th idiocy from Washington and the leftist nannies running NGO’s.

Posted by Doc | Report as abusive

Here is a way to create jobs

Nov 30, 2009 20:10 UTC

From Gary Becker:

My favorite approach it to try to stimulate the economy by cutting income taxes, especially corporate income taxes and other taxes on capital, both physical and human capital. Such tax cuts will stimulate investments in the economy, and in this way increase the demand for workers.

Of course, tax cuts at this moment would add to the deficit and increase the size of the government debt at a time when the debt has already grown rapidly. Tax cuts may also take time before they raise investments and jobs. On the other hand, tax cuts that add significantly to the growth rate of GDP will have only modest, and possibly even negative, effects on the ratio of the debt to GDP while they increase investments and the demand for workers. This seems to me to be an attractive way to approach solutions to the unemployment problem at the jobs summit this Thursday.

If you believe ObamaCare will be deficit neutral …

Nov 30, 2009 20:06 UTC

….  then you must believe all of the following (via The Health Care Blog):

Health reform adds a heap of new cost saving political obligations on Congress. A partial list:

1)that Congress not extend the five-year shelter for states from their share of the cost of a 15 million person Medicaid expansion (e.g. more than a 30% increase). Presently, states are sheltered from Medicaid cost sharing for this expansion until 2014, but then have to find $34 billion in new money to pay their share. States, who are drowning in Medicaid costs already, will press hard to have their existing matching requirements reduced, as they have been for S/CHIP in the two bills.

2)that any “public option” health plan be self-supporting after an initial start up investment, which must be repaid. Recent CBO analysis suggested that because it will attract a ton of sick people, public plan premiums may end up costing more than private insurance unless they are either heavily subsidized or else impose Medicare rates unilaterally. Who will sign up if it’s so expensive?

3)that premium subsidies to help support a 21 million-person expansion in private insurance coverage not rise if health insurance premium growth exceeds present estimates. The premium subsidies are a huge new entitlement- $574 billion over a decade in the more generous House bill. Neither Congress nor the CBO have the faintest idea how health insurers’ costs will be affected by all the proposed restrictions on their underwriting practices. The subsidy cost estimates are, therefore, a Jules Verne moon shot. What happens if, as seems likely, they are way too low?

4)that Congress let stand recommendations of the proposed (by the Senate anyway)

“independent” Medicare Commission that would reduce spending below a target

(and not fiddle with the deficit neutrality rule which requires them to find offsetting revenues if the cuts are not implemented). This Commission was forbidden by Senate charter from affecting hospital payments (45.5% of the program’s cost in 2007!), not an auspicious beginning. The House has thus far predictably refused to let go of Medicare’s reins.

5)that Congress not tamper with the health benefit package employers are mandated to provide or individuals are mandated to carry. In both bills, the relatively restrained “opening” benefit package is left under the (political) control of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. If there is benefit creep (chiropractic, podiatry, in vitro fertilization, massage therapy, reiki, you name it), the required premium subsidies will have to increase apace.

How confident are you that Congress will bite all these bullets and exercise fiscal restraint when confronted with organized advocacy? The CBO kabuki dance on health reform’s deficit neutrality has pivoted around the risible assumption that Congress will actually enforce laws, like the Part B cap, that require, at some future point, fiscal discipline

Obama’s reverse stimulus on its way

Nov 27, 2009 20:42 UTC

Jed Graham of IBD highlights the coming fiscal drag in a pretty picture:

0112509ibd

Me: What would that mean for GDP growth? A pre-financial crisis analysis by Goldman Sachs predicts, for instance, found that getting rid of all the Bush tax cuts at the end of 2010 would cause a 3 percentage point drop in the economy in 1Q 2011.  In any event, anti-growth fiscal policy is one more reason to believe in the dreary New Normal

COMMENT

Rick,Which is presumably why the chart cuts off at 2013 instead of showing the out years when the net impact of the reform will be neutral.

Posted by Chi Democrat | Report as abusive

Does Washington really get the jobs crisis?

Nov 27, 2009 18:46 UTC

David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff doesn’t think so:

These attempts to stimulate consumption at a time when household spending relative to GDP is already at an all-time high are not going to carry much of a multiplier impact. There is a youth unemployment crisis, a skills crisis, a crisis among the ability of small businesses, who have been responsible for 65% of the new hiring in the U.S.A. over the past 15 years — to secure financing for working capital purposes, there is a crisis in terms of a declining manufacturing capital stock, and the programs we get are these old and tired Keynesian attempts at temporary boosts to consumer demand. It truly boggles the mind, and as we show below, American taxpayers are still a long, long way from paying for all these transitory fiscal policies out of Washington.

Me: When I hear folks start talking about new WPA and CCC programs, I know they’re out of ideas.

COMMENT

Thanks for the post and for sharing the very useful information related to job crisis.

Cap-and-trade prospects looking dodgy

Nov 27, 2009 18:33 UTC

Kim Strassel is right, cap-and-trade looks terminal for 2010 and beyond. Sure, the EPA could try to push its own draconian carbon regulation. But I think that would cause a firestorm on Capitol Hill. Strassel:

Polls show a public already losing belief in the theory of man-made global warming, and skeptics are now on the offense. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell argues this scandal gives added cover to Blue Dogs and other Democrats who were already reluctant to buck the public’s will and vote for climate legislation. And with Republicans set to pick up seats, Mr. Ebell adds, “By 2011 there will hopefully be even fewer members who support this. We may be close to having it permanently stymied.” Continued U.S. failure to act makes an international agreement to replace Kyoto (which expires in 2012) a harder sell.

More Washington budget gimmickry

Nov 27, 2009 18:18 UTC

Karl Rove makes a good point:

The administration says it is now instructing agencies to either freeze spending or propose 5% cuts in their budgets for next year. This won’t add up to much unless agencies use the budgets they had before the stimulus inflated their spending as their baseline in calculating their cuts.

For example, if the Education Department uses its current stimulus-inflated budget of $141 billion instead of the $60 billion budget it had before Mr. Obama moved into the White House, freezing its budget will do nothing to fix the fiscal mess the president has created.

Me: Indeed, one thing to watch out for is how these elevated, stimulus-related spending levels become incorporated into budget baselines.

COMMENT

There are some that have credibility on the deficit (Bartlett, Rubin etc.) there are others that do not. Those who cite folks like Rove and claim to be anything other than polemic deserve derision. Do you perceive Karl Rove as a legitimate expert? Can you rebut the substance of my comment which directly rebuts Rove’s alleged insight?

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