Obama jobs plan has something for most in state delegation

WASHINGTON–No one was surprised. No one was blown away. But there was something for everyone to like in the $447 billion jobs package President Barack Obama laid out Thursday night–at least for most lawmakers in the heavily-Democratic Connecticut delegation.

“I would describe it as solid,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who praised the president’s commitment to mortgage relief for distressed homeowners, investment in the nation’s infrastructure, and aid to struggling states and cities.

Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, said that while Obama wasn’t as bold as he was hoping, pragmatism isn’t a bad path for Obama to take in dealing in this divided Congress. “Is this package as aggressive as I would like? Probably not,” Murphy said. “But I understand why he has to propose a plan that can get bipartisan support.”

Others were more enthusiastic. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said Obama’s plan “hit the nail square on.” She said the bevy of proposals will spur both short-term job creation and long-term economic growth.

“The initiatives he talked about are going to look at good jobs, well-paying jobs,” she said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, was less than ebullient, however.

“Sen. Lieberman believes that first and foremost it is imperative to take strong bi-partisan action to address the debt problem which is the greatest threat to an economic recovery which will  produce robust job creation,” a spokesman said.

Obama called on lawmakers to adopt wide-ranging set of measures, from tax cuts for businesses and workers to a year-long extension of unemployment benefits. The plan has several key components:

  • Cutting payroll taxes for businesses in half, and eliminating the entire 6.2 percent levy for companies that hire new workers or increase wages.
  • Increasing the break workers now get on their share of the payroll tax from 2 percentage points to 3.1 points, for a total reduction of 50 percent.
  • Providing $35 billion in aid to states and municipalities to rehire laid-off teachers and first responders.
  • Investing $100 billion in new infrastructure projects, with half of that devoted to highways, transit, rail and aviation upgrades and another $25 billion directed to modernizing schools.
  • Extending unemployment benefits for one year and funding new initiatives to help the long-term unemployed get back into the workforce.

The White House said the total price tag for his plan would come to about $447 billion, a major outlay at a time when Congress is also focused on debt reduction.

Obama said the plan would be paid for, promising to send Congress a detailed debt-reduction plan that covered the cost of his jobs package and that also fulfilled the mandate of the special debt-reduction committee. That panel has to agree on $1.5 trillion in budgetary savings before Thanksgiving.

With such a panoply of proposals, it’s little wonder that Connecticut Democrats heard at least one or two things they liked.

Murphy, for example, he was thrilled to hear Obama talk about jump-starting America’s manufacturing sector, even if he didn’t specifically endorse the Murphy’s proposals to bolster federal procurement rules to benefit U.S. defense contractors.

Obama used House Democrats’ “Made in America” rhetoric, but in the context of promoting trade deals that many Democrats, including Murphy, strongly oppose. Still, Murphy noted that Obama went on to talk about revving up America’s competitiveness on everything from cars to semiconductors.

“This is the first time I’ve really heard him talk passionately about manufacturing and that’s really important to me and my district,” Murphy said.  “In Connecticut, we can’t survive as an economy without a strong manufacturing base.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the single best proposal was a tax credit for companies that hire veterans, which tackles an issue he has made a primary focus in his first Senate term. “Veterans are unemployed at much higher rates than their peers,” Blumenthal noted. So “what struck me as most important, among all the proposals, were incentives to hire veterans.”

DeLauro highlighted the infrastructure investments the president called for. Obama’s school construction proposal mirrors a plan she’s been touting for years. The investments are aimed at helping schools add new science labs, upgrade technology, and renovating facilities. “This is about putting people back to work now,” DeLauro said, as well as bolstering education.

She also noted that the White House touted the idea of an Infrastructure Bank, calling for a $10 billion federal investment that would be used to leverage private capital for high-priority transportation projects. DeLauro conceded the proposal is a scaled-down version of her proposal to create a wide-ranging institution that would fund everything from energy projects to broadband.

But, she said, “we’re further ahead on this concept than we ever have been in the past.”

Courtney said his favorite proposal in the package was one that doesn’t require congressional action and probably won’t capture many headlines: ensuring that federal housing agencies can help more people refinance their mortgages.

“I know for a fact there’s so much pent up demand with homeowners in Connecticut who have been desperately trying to change their mortgage,” Courtney said. With interest rates at 4 percent, “It frees real money for families, and I think it helps stem the bleeding” in the broader economy.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said the Obama’s jobs outline was full of “solid, proven tested policy.” But he seemed most enthused about Obama’s promise to to address the country’s broader debt and deficit problems, including a vow to tackle an overhaul of the tax code and changes to cherished entitlement programs like Medicare.

“He’s finally going to stand up for something like the Gang of Six or Simpson-Bowles,” Himes said, referring to two sweeping deficit-reduction proposals. “I think that’s very exciting.”

Asked about the political prospects for the president’s proposal, Himes and others noted that many elements, such as the tax breaks, were clearly aimed at garnering Republican support.

“There was nothing in the President’s speech tonight that Congress could not consider tomorrow,” Rep. John Larson, D-1st District and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement.

Larson and others have previously expressed disappointment with Obama’s negotiating style, saying he hasn’t been as forceful as Democrats wanted. But Courtney noted that Obama ended his speech by noting that he would take his message on the road, in a campaign-style effort to pressure Congress to act.

“You’ve got to shake this place up and going on the road is going to do it,” he said.