Obama pivots to the economy and jobs

The Christmas Day airliner bombing attempt consumed his attention for two weeks. On Friday, Obama moved to address the economy, announcing $2.3 billion in tax credits to help create clean-energy jobs.

Jason Reed/Reuters
President Barack Obama pauses while delivering remarks on the economy and creating jobs, in the East Room of the White House in Washington Friday.

President Obama made his long-telegraphed pivot Friday to the economy and jobs, after a rough two weeks addressing the attempted Christmas Day airliner attack.

In an East Room statement, Mr. Obama acknowledged that the December unemployment numbers (85,000 jobs lost) were a disappointment – “a reminder that the road to recovery is never straight” – and promised to “explore every avenue to accelerate the return to hiring.”

The president then turned to his main point: new Recovery Act funding for clean energy manufacturing jobs. According to the White House, the $2.3 billion in tax credits it is promising will help create more than 17,000 jobs in the domestic manufacture of wind, solar, and other energy efficiency and management technologies.

Obama has long faced pressure from fellow Democrats to use his bully pulpit for the No. 1 issue of concern to Americans – high unemployment, still at 10 percent. The November midterm elections are fast approaching, and Democratic incumbents are becoming increasingly nervous. Nonpartisan political analyst Charlie Cook now says Democratic control of the House could be in jeopardy, come November.

The clean-energy manufacturing plan

In his remarks, Obama tried to spin Friday’s jobs report as best he could, noting that job losses for the last quarter of 2009 were one-tenth of what the nation experienced during the first quarter. And, he noted, the revised figures for November showed an actual increase in jobs (4,000), the first monthly gain in nearly two years.

But Obama sought to add flesh to the numbers and give hope for the future by highlighting his administration’s plan to use stimulus money for clean-energy manufacturing. More than 180 projects in 43 states will receive the tax credits. And he’s hoping to do more.

“We received requests for roughly three times as much funding – $7.6 billion – than we could provide,” he said. “And that’s why, as part of the jobs package on which I’m urging Congress to act, I’ve called for investing another $5 billion in this program.”

A hijacked agenda

It has been two weeks since a young Nigerian man boarded a Detroit-bound plane in Amsterdam, hiding explosives in his underwear, and the Obama administration has been deluged with questions about the failed plot ever since. Healthcare reform, now in its final stages, is also consuming the president’s time.

But it’s jobs Americans want, and the Obama spotlight has shone there only in fits and starts in recent weeks. Early last month, Obama held a high-profile jobs summit at the White House, and traveled to Allentown, Pa., to kick off a “main street” tour focused on job creation. His second stop on the tour, to Lorain County, Ohio, will not take place until Jan. 22.

“In a way, Obama is a captive of his ambitious agenda,” says John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “He’s trying to balance a lot of things.”

But ultimately, Mr. Geer adds, presidents have only so much influence over the economy, which is driven more by structural forces. Still, he says, “you want to show that you’re active on this front and trying to make it a priority.”


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