It is the most ridiculous looking play in football when it doesn’t work. Faced with a fourth down and three yards to go near midfield, the punter stays on the sideline and the quarterback breaks the huddle with the fans biting their fingernails over the gutsy move of “going for it!” The quarterback begins barking signals in a harsh tone. He then backs away and moves a receiver from one side of the field to the other and goes back under center and barks signals even louder to try to lure the opposing team’s defense offsides to secure a first down. But the defense doesn’t bite, and the home team looks foolish as the yellow flag goes fluttering to the turf for a “delay of game” penalty.
As most of the nation waited eagerly for the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers to kick off the NFL football season Thursday night, President Obama looked a lot like the flustered quarterback trying to draw the other team offsides. Unfortunately for the president, his ploy fooled no one: Not the opposition in Congress, not the public who were more focused on the football game, not the workers who want the misery of a failed economy to end, and not the businesses that feel too uncertain about the future to create jobs right now. Deception doesn’t create certainty, it undermines it. And the president’s speeches have lost whatever magic they once had.
Unfortunately, the president has a very limited play book, and he continues to dial up plays that have proven not to work. Extending unemployment benefits for jobless workers may be a benevolent act, but it isn’t going to put folks back to work. In fact, there is some evidence to indicate that it will have the opposite effect. Extending the payroll tax cut to workers and expanding it somewhat to include businesses will put a small amount of money into the hands of businesses and families but it won’t be enough to offset the higher cost of food and energy. The current payroll tax cut did little to stimulate spending because consumers are wary of their economic future and either paid down debt with the additional money in their pay checks or put it into savings.
No one can argue the value of bona fide infrastructure improvements. Roads, bridges, and ports fuel commerce. If the previous “stimulus” package had substituted its “green” energy and high speed rail boondoggles for more immediately viable infrastructure projects, some shovels might actually be digging at this point. But infrastructure projects take time to develop and, though worthwhile, won’t provide an immediate bump in employment.
Sending hundreds of billions of dollars more to state and local governments will bring Obama favor with the public employee unions that will finance a significant part of his campaign, but it will do little for the desperately needed job creation in the private sector that drives economic recoveries. The fact that Obama and the democratically controlled Congress blew so much of the previous “stimulus” on the public sector instead of the private sector trapped them deep on their own side of the playing field and is limiting their chances for enactment of another stimulus proposal.
What the president hasn’t laid out in any detail is how he plans to pay for more hundreds of billions of dollars in a new round of government spending and tax cuts. If his plan is to do it by raising taxes, he will offset the positive impact of the tax cuts he proposes to initiate or extend. If he plans to offset the costs by reductions in federal spending, he needs to be upfront about exactly what will be cut and those reductions should be enacted as part of his proposal—not put off into the future.
What the president really needs is a new play, one that works on fourth and long. There is one. Instead of $400 billion in new spending, he can announce $400 billion in direct and immediate economic impact by reducing the federal regulatory burden on businesses by that amount. If that happened, the stock market would soar, investments would flow, and in no time well over 200,000 new jobs a month would be created. Unfortunately, President Obama’s coaches and fans won’t allow him to call that play, so instead, he barks empty signals at the line of scrimmage and hopes the other team will jump offsides.