On jobs, go with ‘all of the above’

President Obama will reportedly unveil a revised economic agenda in about two weeks, and while we don’t yet know the details of the plan, we continue to hear hints about the administration’s direction.

Yesterday, for example, White House aides noted that the president met with his Jobs and Competitiveness Council, and discussed “having construction workers retrofit commercial buildings to make them more energy efficient.” The retrofitting idea has been touted by General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt and American Express chief Ken Chenault, who co-chair Obama’s jobs council, and believe it could create up to 1 million jobs.

A Reuters report has more along these lines, highlighting a series of ideas that are under consideration, including an initiative to fund school building renovations (the “FAST Act”); aid for teacher hiring; a mass refinancing plan for the struggling housing market; tax credits for new hires; extending the payroll tax break; and extending unemployment aid.

Which of these ideas should Obama push in his new agenda? All of them and more, of course.

E.J. Dionne Jr. got this just right earlier in the week, with a column pressing the president to “go big,” presenting the most ambitious plan possible.

Obama should not be constrained by what the Tea Party might allow subservient Republican leaders in Congress to do. He should state plainly, eloquently and in detail what he thinks needs to happen. Neither history nor the voters will be kind to him if he lets caution and political calculation get in the way. […]

Ah, but won’t congressional Republicans block as much of this program as they can? That’s the wrong question. The point is to insist on a rational plan and to challenge the political system to act rationally. Most economists and business people not blinded by ideology believe we need short-term stimulus and long-term fiscal balance. Obama should explain what needs to be done and then fight for it. That’s the only way it will have any chance of happening.

Obviously, we know Republicans will say what they always say: “No jobs, no way.” But if this realization leads the White House to aim lower, in the hopes that maybe the GOP would be more conciliatory, recent history tells us what a mistake this would be.

It’s far better for the president to be bold, present popular ideas that would work, give the public a plan to rally around, and make it clear to the nation exactly where both sides stand. If the right is going to reject every idea anyway, why should Obama settle for a weak plan from the outset?

When Republicans say no, even to middle-class tax breaks, voters will see two very different agendas. Next year, they’ll have a chance to choose between the competing visions.

What’s unacceptable is throwing up one’s arms in disgust and saying, “Well, Republicans are an American nightmare; those nihilists will kill anything worthwhile; failure will be humiliating; so there’s no point is presenting a bold plan that’s not going anywhere.” This is not only unproductive, it actually helps the GOP by giving them a pass. They won’t have to pay a price for rejecting a popular jobs agenda if Democrats fail to present them with one.