Vice-President Biden's former chief economist, Jared Bernstein, on what President Obama should offer up in September, beginning with the known knowns:
[An] extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits. Those are already in the system, but they expire at the end of this year, and to let them do so would create a dangerous air pocket that we must avoid at all costs....
Then, he should roll out a campaign for a national infrastructure program to repair, retrofit, and modernize the nation’s public schools called FAST!—Fix America’s Schools Today. It’s got important advantages over the president’s infrastructure bank idea; it’s highly visible, can be stood up faster, and it’s more labor intensive, too. Finally, he should tout clean energy investments, as he did recently in Michigan, stressing the opportunities these investments create by replacing contracting industries with new, expanding ones.
I would urge more. Bernstein is merely trying to be realistic, but the other and quite grim reality is that one-third of our national government is controlled by ruthless political cutthroats who give not one damn for the welfare of the American worker. Bernstein estimates the odds of "the renewal of the payroll tax cut at above 50 percent, and the unemployment insurance extension only slightly below half," and here he's being a generous handicapper. I'd put the odds of any House movement on any Obama proposal at roughly equivalent to those of Sarah Palin reading a briefing book.
So why not go genuinely big? The House can just as mindlessly reject (and the Senate can just as mindlessly filibuster) large-scale improvements to roads, bridges, sewer systems and dams, as well as a massive rescue of states to retain teachers and cops and firefighters, as it can mindlessly reject school repairs. And the more rejections, the greater the contrast between a bold, visionary president and horse-and-buggy barbarians.
Obama could also go populist and propose an earlier repeal of Bush's madly unpopular upper-end tax cuts. He could propose a one-time, emergency surcharge on obscene incomes. He could propose a sizable trimming of the nation's healthcare costs through a lowering of the Medicare eligibility age. He could declare victory in Afghanistan.
All of which congressional Republicans would loudly denounce with charateristically lunatic abandon, just as they will even the most modest of proposals. The only difference is that one set of proposals -- Bernstein's set -- says footnote to history, while the second set has "historic" written all over it. And decisive reelection.