As the New York Times reported Sunday, within the Obama White House a fierce debate is raging about what to do next about jobs and the economy. But on the same day Americans learned advisers David Plouffe and Bill Daley are pushing President Obama to put forward only proposals which can pass Congress as part of his continuing quixotic quest for the political center, the Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg became the latest to document that it no longer exists.
Which is one more reason why President Obama not only must aggressively promote the job creation programs America are so desperate for. He should take a page from the GOP playbook while doing so. After all, the same Republicans who claimed the economy was the party's "number one priority" immediately pushed draconian anti-abortion restrictions, a stillborn repeal of the health care reform law and a disastrous balanced budget amendment they knew would never become law.
It's time for Barack Obama to start making Republicans offers they can't refuse. And if they do, they'll be on record for having said no to the economic recovery measures the American people so badly need.
1. The States' Rights Act. Republicans claim to love states' rights. Among them should be the right to get help from Washington to limit the cataclysmic budget shortfalls and layoffs now gripping cash-strapped state and local governments. The States' Rights Act would do just that.
After all, state and local governments which shed almost 500,000 jobs since 2009 lost 39,000 more in June and are forecast to hemorrhage 110,000 more in the third quarter. With tax revenues only now beginning to approach pre-recession levels and federal stimulus funding evaporating, 42 states face budget shortfalls totaling $175 billion over the next two and a half years. They have been, and continue to be, the anti-stimulus.
So here is a proposal to rescue the states and protect the fragile American economy, all with only a small impact on the federal government's long-term debt. Establish a $200 billion, two-year federal fund providing loans to those states desiring them to prevent further layoffs and to help pay for the rising, recession-induced costs of Medicaid, unemployment and other essential services. These no-or-low interest loans could be paid back over 10 years.
During the debate over the stimulus program in early 2009, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed:
"If the money were lent rather than just granted, states would, I think, spend it wisely and the states that didn't need it at all wouldn't take any."
Now would be a good time to take him up on his offer.
2. The Ronald Reagan Debt Reduction Silver Anniversary Act. Economic recovery programs cost money. To offset their long-term budgetary impact, Democrats and Republicans alike can turn to Ronald Reagan for guidance.
Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt, but his draining of the Treasury could have been much worse. Recognizing the devastating impact of his massive 1981 supply-side tax cuts, Reagan subsequently raised taxes seven of his eight years in office, 11 times in all. The most remembered came in 1986, with the passage of a major tax overhaul which eliminated scores of loopholes for individual and business alike.
To honor the 25th anniversary of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, President Obama should propose and Congress should pass the Ronald Reagan Debt Reduction Silver Anniversary Act. By wiping out a wide range loopholes and subsidies, resetting the estate tax to 45 percent while returning the top income and capital gains tax to their 2000 levels starting in 2013, this tribute to the Gipper could erase at least $1 trillion of debt over the following decade.
3. The Ayn Rand Payroll Tax Holiday Act. As part of last year's $800 billion package extending the Bush tax cuts for two more years, Congress passed a one-year, two percent cut in the payroll taxes paid by virtually every working American. But that incentive set to expire at the end of December, one which could save a family earning $50,000 around $1,000. So President Obama should act to right away to continue for two more years.
But that payroll tax holiday costs the Treasury $120 billion a year. To make sure the next generation of Medicare and Social Security recipients can count on the same kinds of benefits that Ayn Rand did and Paul Ryan does, President Obama and Republican leaders should raise the income cap on payroll taxes from $106,800 to $250,000 a year. That's a small price to pay for Going Galt.
4. The John McCain Home Loan Responsibility Act. With banks set to foreclose on as many as 900,000 homes this year, the moribund U.S. housing market remains a major drag on the economic recovery. Last week, John McCain offered the rough outlines of a solution:
"The reality is that the housing market is what triggered this crisis, and it's going to be the housing market that recovers. And that means to me, go out and buy up people's mortgages as we did during the Great Depression, and give them a mortgage that they can afford the payments to make, and then we will begin to come out of this problem."
That's a far cry from March 2008, when presidential candidate John McCain fretted about moral hazard and declared, "I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers."
Pilot programs to keep Americans in their homes by getting banks to accept mortgage "cram downs" could be scaled up with, say, a $25 billion federal fund. Given his own experience, tea party freshman Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) should be a solid supporter. After all, he just claimed that his own bank should have known he couldn't pay back a $2.2 million loan.
5. The Dwight Eisenhower and Ted Stevens Memorial Infrastructure Fund. If ever there was a time for a massive public works program, this is it. With unemployment stuck at 9 percent and an estimated $3 trillion backlog in projects to repair America's bridges, highways, transit systems, water systems and sewerage treatment plants, President Obama and Congress should embark on a five year, $250 billion infrastructure overhaul.
These investments in an Infrastructure Bank and Surface Transportation Upgrades would not only be a fitting tribute to President Eisenhower's innovative interstate highway system. The late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens may have been wrong about the Internet, but tunnels, water pipes and sewer systems are a "series of tubes."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)