In a letter to President Obama ahead of his major jobs speech before Congress on Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) have identified a number of potential opportunities for bipartisan compromise on job creation.
While we each sincerely believe that our own policy prescriptions for economic recovery are what is best for the country, neither of us is likely to convince the other in a manner that results in the full implementation of those policies. While it is important that we continue to debate and discuss our different approaches to job creation, it is also critical that our differences not preclude us from taking action in areas where there is common agreement.
Infrastructure spending: ”We are not opposed to initiatives to repair and improve infrastructure,” they write. In particular, Republicans favor reforms that would minimize waste and gives states greater control over which projects receive funding. They cite a current law that requires states to spend 10 percent of their surface transportation funds on “transportation enhancements” such as transportation museums and educational programs for pedestrians and cyclists. Eliminating this requirement, they argue, would give states greater flexibility to fund the type of projects Obama is advocating.
Unemployment assistance: Reports indicate that the president may recommend job-training measures for the long-term unemployed modeled on the “Georgia Works” program. Boehner and Cantor point out that House Republicans recommended a similar policy during the stimulus negotiations in 2009, and “stand ready to work with you to implement common-sense reforms in this area.”
Free trade agreements: Despite President Obama’s misleading statements to the contrary, Congress is not “holding up” the passage of three long-stalled trade agreements with South Korea, Panama,, and Colombia, which by the administration’s own account would help create up to 250,000 jobs. In fact, the president has yet to present them to Congress for ratification. “The House is ready — and has been ready — to pass these free-trade agreements, in tandem with separate consideration of Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation, as soon as you send them to Congress,” they write. “Further delay of these bipartisan job-creating trade bills is, in our view, unacceptable.”
However, they argue that these areas of potential compromise “are not a substitute for a comprehensive pro-growth jobs agenda,” such as the one House Republicans have been pursuing, passing a number of bills that the Senate has failed to take up. Boehner and Cantor make clear that they won’t accept a rehash of the same failed policies:
We understand that many in your party want to build on the $800 billion stimulus bill that you proposed (and the Democratic Congress passed) as the best method for improving the economy. As you know, we argued at the time that a large, deficit-financed, government spending bill was not the best way to improve our economic situation or create sustainable growth in employment. Given the current unemployment and deficit numbers, we believe our concerns have been validated.
Achieving bipartisan agreement on job-creation measures will require “more than just one side declaring a proposal to be ‘bipartisan,’” as the president has repeatedly done in the run-up to his speech, no doubt in an effort to paint Congress as “unreasonable” for failing to go along with his agenda. It should be easy to discern from Obama’s speech this Thursday whether he is genuinely interested in bipartisan reform to spur job creation, or whether he is content to play partisan attack dog all the way through November 2012. I think we already know the answer.