President Obama pledged that a jobs summit would be just the start of a push by his administration to bring down the nation's 10 percent unemployment rate.
That doesn't mean another $787 billion stimulus effort is in the works. Mr. Obama said resources are limited, but he also said "I am not interested in taking a wait and see approach" with so many Americans out of work. Translation: He wants some actionable ideas that don't cost huge amounts of money.
"How do we get businesses to start hiring again?" Obama asked as he convened the brainstorming session Thursday with business leaders and top economists.
Here are some of the key ideas he heard:
• Give employers incentives to hire. A targeted tax credit, available to businesses that expand their payroll, is one possibility the White House and Congress may support. Ensuring that businesses can get tax credits for research and development is another.
• Create green energy jobs with a "cash for caulkers" program. Just as Congress stimulated demand for cars this summer with the "cash for clunkers" incentives at dealerships, Washington could provide incentives for homeowners and businesses to make buildings more energy efficient. It would create jobs now, and lower the nation's reliance on fossil fuels in years ahead. More broadly, summit participants presented a range of ideas to boost jobs in clean-energy fields.
• Boost credit availability for small firms. "We've heard that loud and clear" as a top concern of business, White House economist Christina Romer said on CNBC. Large firms generally see credit markets working, Obama said in the meeting. The administration is already trying to provide new capital to small and mid-size banks, which support many small employers. Administration efforts to stabilize the housing market also tie in, because home equity is often the collateral for a small business loan.
• Boost infrastructure spending or aid to states. Many economists say this is one of the best ways to preserve or create jobs. Investments by government can have a large "multiplier" effect on economic activity, they say. And states are likely to make deep budget cuts next year, unless new federal aid arrives. Critics of more aid see that money as politically motivated -- spending to save Democratic union jobs rather than the private sector.
• Expanding exports. Obama said this "has to be a priority." Where some economists warn against fueling a trade war (China recently accused the US of protectionism), others say the US urgently needs to fight back against a tide of job losses to overseas competitors. Citing a summit participant who is bringing call-in sales jobs back to the US from overseas, Obama said his administration will try to get more of this "reverse job migration."
• Use the TARP fund as a pool of jobs money. Actually Obama heard this idea from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not at the jobs summit. She said that after it was used to rescue banks and carmakers, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program has extra money that could be used to save unemployed workers in various ways. Not everyone agrees the TARP could be used this way, but the idea is now under active review.
Whether TARP funds are used or not, Obama has an eye on the cost of any new programs. Federal budget deficits are in record territory and are a source of voter worry right alongside jobs.
Obama said he wanted to keep hearing specific job-creation ideas from the 130 participants at the jobs forum. But in translating these ideas into action, he laid out his goal with words chosen to fit the budget climate. "I want to take every responsible step to accelerate job creation," he said.
Congress may try to act on some of the ideas early next year.
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