Any pretense that President Obama planned to deliver a bipartisan call to action on jobs flew out the window the second he entered the House floor on Thursday evening. Half the room burst into applause and Democrats lined the aisle to gladhand the president as he swept toward the podium.
Lost in all the hoopla was the somberness of the event. As lawmakers backslapped the president, who beamed brightly as he turned left and right and left, some 14 million Americans were searching for work in an economy that has collapsed under Mr. Obama.
From the outset, the former constitutional law teacher was preachy, professorial and pedantic. "This past week, reporters have been asking, 'What will this speech mean for the president? What will it mean for Congress? How will it affect their polls, and the next election?' "
Of course, he went on to say he was above all those petty considerations and cared only about "real-life concerns."
Drawing the first of 53 interruptions for applause — almost exclusively by partisan Democrats — Mr. Obama scolded GOP lawmakers for opposing some of his more costly proposals, saying, "The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy."
By the numbers, he went on to call for Congress to "pass this bill" some 15 times. It turns out, though, that there is no American Jobs Act, no bill at all, and afterward the White House said it would be sending bits and pieces of it to the Hill over the coming weeks.
Other claims by the president were equally dubious. "Everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything," he said to more partisan applause. Not so, the Associated Press wrote after the speech. "It will only be paid for if a committee he can't control does his bidding, if Congress puts that into law and if leaders in the future — the ones who will feel the fiscal pinch of his proposals — don't roll it back," they wrote.
The Washington Post, in its own fact-check piece, said the speech was deja vu all over again. " 'Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs,' Obama proclaimed in a speech to a similar joint session of Congress on Feb. 24, 2009. Were not sure about the jobs saved part, but the country has certainly not created net jobs since then: There are almost 2 million fewer jobs since he made those remarks 2½ years ago."
But in the end, there were just too few specifics to allow an actual fact-check. Mr. Obama once again tossed out the old canard — infrastructure — saying roads and bridges need work, but didn't say how or when such work would commence, nor did he say how his bill would pay for that.
He also worked in other areas that really have nothing to do with creating jobs.
"The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools. It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows, installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across this country."
But those sound like busywork, short-term jobs, not long-lasting careers for out-of-work Americans. (And oddly, the next day, Mr. Obama, who took his nonpartisan show on the road for what was clearly a campaign stop, was incensed about schools using trailers for classrooms. In some cases, they're used because of overcrowding. But the majority of them are used during renovations — the very thing Mr. Obama was calling for.)
Even the New York Times, almost always in the president's corner, had very little good to say about the speech. "The dismal state of the economy is the main reason many companies are reluctant to hire workers, and few executives are saying that President Obamas jobs plan — while welcomed — will change their minds any time soon," the paper wrote.
In addition to unimpressed employers, Wall Street investors were not bucked up. The Dow fell more than 300 points the day after his speech, and other markets in the world slumped as well.
The bottom line is simple: No one thinks Mr. Obama understands the problem and has the solution. In fact, even the premise is wrong: The president can't create a single job; he can only create the environment in which companies can make jobs. And really, it's fairly simple: Hack taxes way back, corporate and otherwise, and offer long-term incentives for employers to hire. The more money a company saves, the more it can expand and the more people it can hire.
Most likely, the American Jobs Act will be replaced with a serious bill by the GOP majority in the House. Mr. Obama called for Congress to "pass the bill." We'll see if the Democrat-controlled Senate heeds his call.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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