The Jobs for Energy Security Act: What Obama's Jobs Plan Should Look Like
Photo credit: US Navy
Tonight, president Obama will give his somewhat anticipated speech on job creation (unless John Boehner complains that it will interfere with his croquet match, and asks Obama to reschedule). Rumor has it that the plan will be a $300 billion dollar package that will primarily focus on lowering the tax burden on the middle class and extending unemployment benefits. It will supposedly also include some spending on job-creating infrastructure projects, like highway and bridge repair.
The plan has almost no one excited, and for good reason -- economists say it would lead to only mild growth, and chances are, the GOP will prevent its passage anyways. But it gives us ample reason to wonder: What would a truly good jobs bill look like?A: Nothing like any bill that stands a chance of making it through our trusty hyper-partisan Congress. The GOP is intent on shutting anything down that could possibly be construed as a victory for Obama or the Democrats, and Republicans have little interest in actually creating jobs at the moment. A poor economy helps them at the polls next year, after all.
So our proposed jobs bill -- let's call it the Jobs for Energy Security Act, or JESA -- will merely be something of a thought experiment. Remember, anything that Democrats propose, except tax cuts for the wealthy or expanded oil drilling, will be opposed by Republicans. So let's have some fun. Let's start with the least feasible parts first, shall we?
Photo: PMillera4 via Flickr/CC BY
The Jobs for Energy Security Act
First up, JESA would aspire to launch an ambitious WPA-style clean energy works program. This would, in many respects, be the ideal solution: Millions could be put to work constructing solar arrays in the Southwest, offshore wind farms along the Eastern seaboard, and turbines across Texas and the Great Plains.
Remember all that hopeful chatter of a Green New Deal when Obama first took office? It would look like this. Such an initiative would make Tom Friedman and Saul Griffith proud, and would be a win-win-win: creating jobs, bolstering our energy independence, and giving US industry a leg up in the world's next major tech sector. The original WPA employed 3.5 million people at its peak, at a time when the nation was less populous. With roughly the same proportional expenditure, we could put a colossal dent in that 9% unemployment figure that's been refusing to budge.
Such a works program, alas, hasn't been politically feasible since FDR entered office with political capital to burn. With Obama's deflating approval rating, and steep opposition from a galvanized GOP, this notion -- and sadly, any downscaled iteration of it -- is infeasible to say the least. So the major plank of JESA would be gutted before the bill even hit the table -- kinda like the public option was punted from health care reform before Congress even got ahold of it. But if Obama were to announce something like the above, he'd at least look like he was making a heroic effort to create tons of jobs in a popular sector (or he'd be called a socialist all over again. But maybe, just maybe, folks are getting desperate enough for jobs that they've tired of all the red scare tactics ... Nah!)
So here's what, it seems to me, we have to work with after that: tax rebates, incentives for the nation's clean tech and energy efficiency industries, and the possibility of throwing in some natural gas goodies to attract bipartisan support.
The backbone of a (slightly more) realistic JESA would be a Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE)-type bill that could offer sweeping tax rebates to any company involved in 'contributing to our nation's energy security' that hired previously unemployed workers. This credit would have to be considerably larger than the break offered under HIRE. Like way bigger: A $50,000 credit per unemployed worker hired (hey, a guy can dream, right?) or such. And in order to qualify, each business would have to prove that its operations brought about a net reduction of carbon emissions.
Oil companies (which import oil from abroad) would be excluded. Clean energy companies -- wind, solar, hydro -- would be eligible. So too would be licensed construction firms that do energy efficiency retrofits or build LEED buildings. Though it would be controversial amongst the anti-fracking left, a provision for natural gas companies to be eligible may have to be included to sweeten the pot for moderates. So, in theory, cleantech and nat gas companies are given a massive incentive to hire, and to expand their operations on the cheap. Ideally, new clean energy companies would sprout up, and a hiring boom would begin.
The bill could be sold as offering massive tax cuts to businesses working to improve America's energy security -- stuff Americans love! -- and could be financed by removing oil subsidies and a tax increase on Americans earning $1 million or more -- Hey, more stuff Americans want to do! However, given the Democrats' terminally poor messaging strategies, this isn't a pitch I'd expect them to successfully make.
For the final provision, the bill would launch a fleet of monkeys out of my ass. Because that's about as likely to happen as any of these initiatives -- as good an idea as any of them may be, Republicans would vociferously work to obliterate even the more moderate tenets. We'd be "picking winners" or "raising taxes on job creators" or such. They'd oppose the government spending, the tax increase, the removal of oil subsidies, Obama continuing to exist, etc.
But still, if Obama were to propose such a thing -- instead of a tepid package of Social Security tax cuts -- he might succeed in inspiring a larger swath of the American people. Show them he cared, had vision, was capable of driving for change. You know, that thing that he used to do so well.
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