Obama pressed from all sides as job summit nears

Business groups, labor leaders, think tanks and lawmakers are lining up to offer President Barack Obama their ideas about creating jobs before the Thursday White House “jobs summit,” underscoring the pressure on the administration to address the grim U.S. employment outlook before the dawn of an election year.

Obama is convening the summit at the White House on Thursday morning amid a 26-year high for unemployment, and aiming to draw proposals from more than 100 invited guests about putting Americans back to work.

“We are going to be bringing together people from all across the country ? business, labor, academics, not-for-profits, entrepreneurs, small and large businesses ? to explore how we can jumpstart the hiring that typically lags behind economic growth, but we don’t want to wait,” Obama said last week. “We want to see if we can accelerate it.”

With unemployment at 10.2 percent, many aren’t waiting for the summit to offer their ideas.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, sent a letter to Obama on Monday, listing proposals including pouring private money into infrastructure projects and making it easier for small businesses to get credit.

The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, is urging measures including a tax credit for job creation and extending state and local budget relief by $150 billion over the next year and a half.

For its part, the Obama administration has been studying a range of job-creation proposals ? but doesn’t want to add to the $1.4 trillion U.S. budget deficit. Ideas include growing energy-related jobs and incentives for small businesses to add to their work forces. Writing in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, White House Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer said direct incentives for homeowners to retrofit their houses and improve energy efficiency could boost construction jobs and stimulate the manufacture of retrofit products.

Peter Fenn, a Democratic consultant, says aid to small businesses will likely be “front and center” at the summit.

“There has to be a way to loosen up money for small businesses so they feel comfortable hiring and expanding,” he said.

The summit comes a day ahead of the government’s latest jobs report, which is expected to show more job losses during November. And with just a month left in 2009, congressional Democrats are bracing for a rough election year in 2010, owing in part to the weak economy.

“Democrats in Congress are clearly under pressure,” said Alec Phillips, a political economist with Goldman Sachs in Washington. “Obama is under pressure as well, simply because it’s his party.”

The White House credits the $787 billion economic stimulus package with creating more than 1 million jobs, and Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday said more projects are in the pipeline that will put Americans to work, including in infrastructure and broadband and high-speed rail projects.

But congressional Republicans say the stimulus has been a costly failure that hasn’t prevented the jobless rate from going above 8 percent. House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio is planning his own jobs event for Thursday, inviting economists to his office for a roundtable discussion.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, are intending in the coming months to pass a job-creation bill. They are at least aiming to extend emergency unemployment benefits, and are also considering spending on infrastructure projects and extending some tax breaks.

The November jobs report is expected to show a 23rd consecutive month of job losses. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expect nonfarm payrolls to fall by 100,000 after a drop of 190,000 in October.

That would be the fewest jobs lost since January 2008. But analysts say that even with the U.S. economy slowly recovering, it’s still not strong enough to create any net jobs.

Congressional Republicans oppose spending any money to create jobs and are instead proposing ideas like letting small businesses take tax deductions so they can add workers.

They continued to fault Obama’s administration in advance of the jobs summit this week.

“The White House claimed that if we passed the trillion-dollar ‘stimulus’ unemployment would stay below 8 percent and jobs would be created ‘immediately,’ ” Boehner wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “Instead, unemployment is over 10 percent, more than three million more Americans have lost their jobs, and people are rightfully asking ‘where are the jobs?’ “

Obama is planning to travel to Allentown, Pa., on Friday for the first stop on a “White House to Main Street” tour that the White House says will allow him to share ideas about how to hasten an economic recovery.

(c) 2009, MarketWatch.com Inc. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.