About That Bully Pulpit
by Charles Lemos, Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 06:54:18 PM EST
On Tuesday, the President traveled to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to meet, talk with and listen to both House and Senate Republicans in an effort to secure their concurrence on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Working the power corridors of officialdom in Washington isn't a bad move though I suspect sending Chief of Staff Emanuel to coerce the House GOP and sending the Vice President and the Treasury Secretary to the Senate to cajole and to mend fences may also pay dividends in this end. But if the President really wants to get the GOP to sit up and take notice, he might do better by taking his show on the road a bit further than just the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Take it to Pennsylvania, for instance, where state unemployment rolls have risen by just over 62,000 since December 2007, an increase of 22%, and the Pennsylvania unemployment rate has risen some two hundred and twenty basis points from 4.4% in December 2007 to 6.7% in December 2008. The President might go to Allentown, home to GOP Congressman Charlie Dent, and remind Congressman Dent's constituents that Pennsylvania's unemployment benefits fund may run out of money by the end of this year if jobless rates continue to climb in the Keystone state. While there the President might tout the $43 billion for increased unemployment benefits and job training that American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes.
An estimated 2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008, the most since 1945. A mind numbing 11.1 million people were unemployed as of December 2008 and that number is likely some fifty percent higher if you include the structurally unemployed. And yet the GOP, at times, acts as if nothing has happened on their watch. Worse yet, the GOP continues to prescribe the same old tax cutting medicine that got the patient sick in the first place. This stimulus bill is good what for ails us and it is also the clearest intention yet that the Democrats aim to rewrite the social contract with the American people. The President needs to be the bearer of this new covenant.
In November according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 121 metropolitan areas reported jobless rates of at least 7.0 percent, up from 18 areas a year earlier. El Centro, California, and neighboring Yuma, Arizona, continued to record the highest unemployment rates, 23.4 and 17.9 percent, respectively. Both of these districts are represented by Democrats, Rep. Bob Filner in the CA-51 and Rep. Raul Grijalva in the AZ-07, but a visit from the President might be in order to assess why these areas remain so hard hit by the economic downturn. Here the President might talk about the Rural Business-Cooperative Service which offers $100 million for rural business grants and loans plus an additional $2 billion in loans for rural businesses. The Presiden might also add to those who are uninsured because their health coverage has lapsed that this plan would allow states to provide Medicaid to an entirely new group: those who are receiving unemployment insurance benefits, their spouses and children under 19. The bill includes $127 billion over the next two and a half years just for health care alone.
Or the President might take the Bully Pulpit to Elkhart-Goshen, Indiana, the area of the country which has recorded the largest jobless rate increase in the country since November 2007 where the jobless rate went up 7.9 percentage points. Elkhart-Goshen, Indiana is in the IN-03 and is represented by GOP Congressman Mark Souder. He might be more attentive if the President were speaking in front of Mr. Souder's constituents. The President might also go down to Danville, Virginia where the jobless rate has climbed +6.5 points year-over-year. Danville is in the VA-05 District and is now represented by Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello who won his seat by just 727 votes. Both areas experienced heavy layoffs in manufacturing. He might tell the good people of Indiana and Virginia how his plan creates 408,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector.
Of the 49 metropolitan areas with a Census 2000 population of 1 million or more, Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Michigan, and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California, reported the highest unemployment rates in November 2008, 9.5 percent each. The President might take the Bully Pulpit up to the Motor City and talk about how the Democratic plan to rebuild America's cities includes a healthy investment in education. The American Recovery and Reinvestment plan proposes $41 billion to local school districts through Title I ($13 billion), IDEA ($13 billion), a new School Modernization and Repair Program ($14 billion), and the Education Technology program ($1 billion). In hard hit Michigan and budget-strained California, the President might remind his audience of the $79 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cutbacks to key services, including $39 billion to local school districts and public colleges and universities distributed through existing state and federal formulas, $15 billion to states as bonus grants as a reward for meeting key performance measures, and $25 billion to states for other high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services.
In the suburban sprawl that is the Inland Empire of California, which is represented by GOP Congressmen such as Darrel Issa and Ken Calvert, the President might talk about the $30 billion for highway construction. It is estimated that states have over 5,100 projects totaling over $64 billion that could be awarded within 180 days. These projects create jobs in the short term while saving commuters time and money in the long term. In 2006, the Department of Transportation estimated $8.5 billion was needed to maintain current systems and $61.4 billion was needed to improve highways and bridges. Infrastructure investment is long over due and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act tackles this. The President might also highlight the $1 billion for Capital Investment Grants for new commuter rail or other light rail systems to increase public use of mass transit and to speed projects already in construction. The Federal Transit Administration has $2.4 billion in pre-approved projects. These projects are worthwhile and ready to go. He should dare the GOP to oppose him.
The President is a powerful public speaker. Indeed that talent helped to carry him to the Democratic nomination and then to the Presidency. He now possesses a formidable asset in the Bully Pulpit. He should use it.