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Time For a New Plan: Frightening Jobless Numbers Show Flaws in GOP Austerity Agenda

While Obama pushes for a deal on the debt ceiling, jobs numbers make plain that the focus in Washington is in the wrong place: jobs, not deficits, are the crisis.

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The president, fresh from his Twitter summit this week, obviously wasn't reading Twitter or the blogs this morning, as economists and economics reporters exploded in anger, disgust and despair. The official response from the administration called for, among other things, the swift passage of free trade agreements—agreements that are estimated to be a net loss of 159,000 jobs to Korea and 55,000 to Colombia.

On the White House blog, Austan Goolsbee called for an extension of the payroll tax cut and the creation of an infrastructure bank to help put Americans back to work. In addition, he wrote, “It also underscores the need for a balanced approach to deficit reduction that instills confidence and allows us to live within our means without shortchanging future growth.”

That the White House continues to accept the conservative narrative about deficits as the economy creaks along should be troubling, particularly as the administration continues to offer compromises on cuts to Republicans as they wrangle over the debt ceiling. Indeed, Obama's speech sounded at times more like another step in that process than a genuine attempt to address the public about jobs.

Rather than noting that corporate profits and executive salaries are sky-high and their taxes at an all-time low, Obama left the fat cats out of the fight, instead arguing “The problems in Greece and in Europe, along with uncertainty over whether the debt limit here in the United States will be raised, have also made businesses hesitant to invest more aggressively.”

As wages stall and workers struggle, the administration's floating of Social Security cuts seems more irresponsible than ever. People who've been unemployed for months and even years aren't adding to retirement funds and will wind up more dependent on their Social Security and Medicare even if that is years in the future.

So what to do? Former administration economist Jared Bernstein echoed what many were saying today when he wrote, “Washington needs to quickly and aggressively shift from its long-term debt obsession to the much more immediate jobs problem. To do otherwise at this point would be deeply irresponsible.”

Yet Bernstein's out, Geithner remains for the time being, and the GOP and corporate backers have so thoroughly controlled the debate over the economy that free-trade deals are being passed off as a jobs plan. The only solutions this morning came from former Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich, who tweeted a six-part jobs plan calling for, along with a payroll tax exemption, loans to the states, and amendments to bankruptcy law, a reinstatement of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Putting millions to work directly sounds like a wonderful plan. And as those millions continue to suffer, as public-sector layoffs don't magically produce jobs and public opinion turns against anti-labor governors like Scott Walker and Chris Christie, perhaps some space will finally open up for a discussion of a real jobs program.

There's little time to waste.

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet and a frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.