Area lawmakers say they want action, not just talk, on economy

August 18, 2011
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh-area congressmen want less blame and more action when President Obama talks next month about spurring the economy.

“Talking about jobs does not create jobs,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, who expects the president to offer more than just words in his highly anticipated speech after Labor Day.

Doyle and fellow House members from Western Pennsylvania said they want to hear support for legislation they think will help the economy.

“The first thing the president needs to do to put faith back into the economy is to stop blasting Congress and the Republicans,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. “It reminds me of child custody cases I would attend and each parent would blast the other. You could never move forward.”

Obama said this week that he would discuss ideas to create jobs and help the poor and middle class. That will add to a series of programs the president introduced to jump-start an economy dragging out the recession that officially ended in June 2009.

Since taking office, he authorized a $789 billion stimulus package, convened several jobs summits, kicked off a “recovery summer,” discussed a StartUp America jobs initiative in his State of the Union address and held a manufacturing jobs tour in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio and Virginia.

The programs did little to increase consumer confidence or spur job growth, according to Stanley Block, professor of finance at Texas Christian University.

“They don’t fit well into the free enterprise model that we have in the United States,” Block said, noting the programs are too dependent on government and regulation.

“The president has no direct control of economic policy,” said Matthew Marlin, chair of the economics department at Duquesne University.

The Federal Reserve controls monetary policy by setting interest rates and the availability of credit to households and businesses, Marlin said. The president must work with Congress to affect overall spending.

“The president can suggest, argue, plead, cajole or whatever … but Congress — and not the president — controls the purse strings,” he said.

Obama appears to be anticipating push-back from a Republican-controlled House. In a speech on Monday in Iowa, he said that if Congress does not get it done, “then we’ll be running against a Congress that’s not doing anything for the American people, and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.”

In 1948, Harry Truman campaigned successfully against a do-nothing Congress, said Kyle Kondick, a political science analyst at the University of Virginia.

“President Obama might be trying to emulate that same strategy by taking an active public role on suggesting ways to improve the economy,” Kondick said.

Obama needs the economy to improve if he hopes to win in 2012, Kondick said. Since World War II, only Ronald Reagan, with 7.2 percent unemployment in 1984, won re-election with a jobless rate above 6 percent.

The unemployment rate remains above 9 percent two years after the recession’s end.

“What is lacking is confidence, both business and individual confidence, that things are going to get better,” Marlin said.

Obama must work with Republicans on legislation, Murphy said. “He needs to tell America that sometimes making sausage isn’t pretty,” the GOP congressman said.

Murphy, Doyle and Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, each has legislation in mind to spur job growth.

Murphy said his Infrastructure Jobs and Energy Independence Act would help create jobs by opening more offshore areas for oil and gas drilling.

Altmire said the Life Sciences Jobs and Investment Act “provides targeted tax relief for businesses that are willing to grow their American workforce.”

Doyle said he would like to see the president propose an infrastructure bank, a government entity that would make loans to maintain or build public-works projects with private funding.

“There is a lot of job creation in interstate highways and rail lines, not only on the projects themselves, but to the other small businesses that facilitate them,” Doyle said.

Altmire said he’s looking for a strong regulatory relief stance from the Obama administration.

“Reducing the number of burdensome regulations will give businesses a sense of certainty to free up credit for small businesses to promote their own job creation,” the Democrat said.