Next step on jobs

NEXT STEP ON JOBS…. In recent weeks, we’ve learned that the House is planning to move forward on a new jobs bill by Christmas; the Senate is putting together a plan of its own to be passed early in the new year; and while the White House’s plans are less clear, President Obama is hosting a “summit” on jobs later this week.

But, while there’s a much-needed focus on job creation among leading policymakers, not everyone is on the same page.

As Democrats renew their push to create jobs, they are at odds over the timing, cost and scope of additional measures, with the White House’s concern about high budget deficits pitted against the eagerness of many in Congress to spur hiring before next year’s elections.

After months in which his focus has been on a health care overhaul and foreign policy issues, President Obama will pivot later this week to the economy, convening a White House forum on Thursday to discuss ideas for job creation and then traveling to Allentown, Pa., for his first stop on a “Main Street Tour.”

Congressional Democrats return from a holiday break intent on packaging new proposals for tax incentives and construction projects to promote employment, with the House, where every member is up for re-election next year, on a much faster track than the Senate or the White House.

Lawmakers seem intent on doing something, though there’s disagreement on how much investment, how it would be paid for, and whether it should be paid for. And with the White House apparently shifting its attention to deficit reduction — a mistake, to be sure — the task becomes that much more difficult.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added, “There’s sort of an anomaly here — people want us to do stuff on jobs but they don’t want to see a lot of government spending.”

You don’t say. The public’s demands may frequently be contradictory, but that’s all the more reason to focus on doing what works — folks may say they want less spending and more deficit reduction, but when push comes to shove, they want a job more.

With that in mind, here’s hoping Paul Krugman’s latest piece gets circulated far and wide among policymakers.

If you’re looking for a job right now, your prospects are terrible. There are six times as many Americans seeking work as there are job openings, and the average duration of unemployment — the time the average job-seeker has spent looking for work — is more than six months, the highest level since the 1930s.

You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers. […]

So it’s time for an emergency jobs program…. All of this would cost money, probably several hundred billion dollars, and raise the budget deficit in the short run. But this has to be weighed against the high cost of inaction in the face of a social and economic emergency.