JONATHAN COHN AUGUST 3, 2011
The best thing about the debt ceiling deal? The possibility of talking about something else: Jobs.
During yesterday’s White House remarks on the agreement, President Obama surprised a lot of people by spending so much of his time talking about employment. "In the coming months, I’ll continue also to fight for what the American people care most about: new jobs, higher wages and faster economic growth," Obama said. "While Washington has been absorbed in this debate about deficits, people across the country are asking what we can do to help the father looking for work." And lest anybody think this was a throwaway line, the White House announced that Obama would be taking a Midwestern bus tour in August, focusing on jobs and the economy.
Talking about jobs isn’t the same thing as doing something about jobs, of course. And doing something on jobs will not be easy. While extensions of unemployment insurance and the payroll tax holiday likely have enough to support, anything beyond that will be difficult to pass. Republicans and their allies will keep insisting that the best way to help the economy is to cut spending, which is the very opposite of what, according to almost every mainstream economist, we should be doing.
But that doesn’t mean the administration shouldn’t be trying – or that those of us who write about policy shouldn't draw attention to worthy ideas. In that spirit, let me once again highlight a proposal to repair and renovate America’s public schools. The Economic Policy Insitute has made the case for this initiative in a briefing paper and Jared Bernstein, who has been touting the idea on his blog, has given it a name: FAST, for Fix America’s Schools Today.
The policy virtue of FAST is that it’d accomplish two goals at once: Putting construction and maintenance workers back to work, while simultaneously improving the physical facilities of our schools. The political virtue is that education is a popular issue, particularly with independent voters. Republicans would try to demonize it as wasteful spending, to be sure, but it seems like Obama and his supporters could make a pretty good counter-argument.