There's widespread speculation that President Barack Obama will propose a variety of measures including an extension and perhaps expansion of payroll tax relief, possible extension of unemployment benefits, a federal program to underwrite major national infrastructure repair and construction and some business tax cuts to promote job creation in his speech to a joint session of Congress tonight. Common courtesy suggests that legislators listen to the speech before passing judgment on its content. That's not the case. Many Republicans already are taking shots at what they think the president will say.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R.-S.C., a darling of the tea party, said Sunday on a TV news show that "I don't think the president is going to come out with things that are really going to create jobs. I'm afraid [Obama's ideas are] just pandering to his base. None of them are like what I've been hearing from businesses all over the country." DeMint concluded by saying, "Frankly, I am so tired of his speeches, it's going to be hard for me to watch."
DeMint is not the only member of Congress who holds those views and states them so boldly. One member of the House, freshman Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., said that he'd skip the speech, implying that nothing Obama could propose would ever be satisfactory. Many others in the party apparently agree with DeMint and Walsh, but most are more circumspect in opposing the president and his policies.
However the opposition is couched, such prejudgment is dangerous. It is an extension of the disastrous partisanship that marked the recent debt ceiling debate that created so much uncertainty about the dollar and, that unnerved domestic and global markets. The country can ill afford to travel that divisive path again, though DeMint, Walsh and most of the GOP leadership and rank and file certainly seem to believe otherwise.
If word coming from Washington about the speech tonight is correct, the president will propose measures that directly and indirectly will create jobs. That's what he should do. With the national unemployment rate hovering just above 9 percent and job growth, as evidenced by August figures, stagnant, creation of jobs is properly the president's top goal. His proposals deserve a fair hearing, not the partisanship and personal animosity, even invective, that has been prevalent in the weeks before the speech.
If sources are correct, the heart of the job creation program will be payroll tax relief for American workers and maybe for those who employ them. Obama has hinted that he wants to extend a cut of 2 percentage points in the Social Security payroll tax paid by employees. It would add about a $1,000 yearly to the take-home pay of the average household. Doing that and expanding the cut to employers would not be cheap, and that's the rub.
If fully implemented, the payroll tax cuts could pump about $200 billion additional dollars into the economy. The hope, of course, is that consumers would use the money to purchase more goods and services. That in turn would prompt businesses to add employees to meet the demand. It's basic economics.
Republicans, though, likely will oppose extension and possible expansion of payroll tax cuts, arguing that its high cost should be matched by equal spending cuts. Its an argument they've made before, but it might not prove unpopular this time. The GOP will have a hard time arguing that putting money in the pockets of consumers is a bad idea.
Indeed, most of what Obama is likely to propose tonight is commonsensical. He deserves a fair hearing, rather than rejection before the fact. His proposals, in truth, should be more far-reaching, but Obama is pragmatic. He's tempered his outlook and reach because he needs GOP votes to put his policies into action. He should receive it, if Republicans remember that good governance is more important than pursuing partisan political goals.