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Obama Delivers Impassioned Jobs Speech, But Fails to Take GOP to Task for Blocking Progress

The administration needs to start inflicting some political pain on the GOP for blocking even the modest, business-friendly measures to spur job growth.

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The proposal would inject around $450 billion into the economy – about 50 percent larger than reports this week had suggested. The Economic Policy Institute gave the proposal “high grades,” noting that the “components of the plan are highly effective for the most part... and at a scale that can really move the dial.” EPI added that the “initial year (or more) will be deficit financed so the effort doesn’t take away with one hand what the other hand had already done—paying for the program in the out years of a 10-year period allows this.”

But the proposal can't “move the dial” if it dies in Congress. And coming into the speech, Obama faced an almost impossible task. On the one hand, the country is mired in a deep funk that will drag on for years absent the kind of big public spending programs that could fill the gap left by the private sector's crash in demand. But this week almost seven out of 10 Americans told pollsters with the Pew Foundation that they didn't think investing in infrastructure would do much for the jobs picture. Many believe that cutting spending will spur job growth – a carefully constructed alternate reality that has, tragically, been embraced by members of both parties. Obama himself has echoed that narrative, helping to create a political atmosphere in which the very things government needs to do to help the country out of its morass aren't politically popular.

Much will depend on what follows the speech. While Obama's proposals weren't entirely new, and his hesitancy to be seen as too “partisan” was what many of us have come to expect, there were some key differences between his approach on Thursday and that of other major legislative efforts during the last two years. In the past, Obama has laid out proposals in broad terms and then left the details up to Congressional leaders to hammer out, but on Thursday, he offered a specific package that he called on them to pass, now – he repeatedly stressed the importance of taking action now. And, having challenged them to pass a specific set of proposals, now, he then vowed to take his case to the American people, something that critics within his own party have lamented he didn't do in the past.

It may be that, with Obama's approval ratings in the tank, the administration has finally settled on a more aggressive approach to dealing with its opposition. A key theme in Obama's speech was that “every proposal I’ve laid out... is the kind that’s been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past” and “every proposal I’ve laid out tonight will be paid for.”

If, as campaign season approaches, the administration can pivot from that "post-partisan" instinct and start inflicting some real political pain on the GOP for blocking even the modest, business-friendly measures to spur job growth they've supported in the past, then maybe the American economy can get just a little bit of the real relief it needs so badly.

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