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Friday, August 2, 2013

The President’s Economic Agenda

President Barack Obama speaks at an distribution center on Tuesday, July 30, 2013, in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

President Barack Obama speaks at an distribution center on Tuesday, July 30, 2013, in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

The jobs numbers are out as President Obama wrapped up his economic tour this week.

On his last stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee he announced his proposal for a “grand bargain” starting by lowering the corporate income tax rate.

NPR’s Ari Shapiro was traveling with the president and he joins us for more on the president’s economic agenda.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. The latest jobs numbers from the Labor Department were out this morning, and the results were mixed. The economy added fewer jobs than expected in July, just about 160,000, but the unemployment rate did tick down to 7.4 percent.

YOUNG: So the sound you heard from the White House, a big phew because President Obama's been traveling the country touting his economic agenda. Let's start there with NPR's Ari Shapiro, who traveled with the president. And Ari, what is your sense of how the White House is receiving this economic news?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Well, they always caution against reading too much into any one economic report. In the last three years, I can't think of a single monthly jobs report that they have emphasized as great news. Instead they tend to talk about the overarching pattern, which was also the case today. This morning Alan Krueger, who chairs President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors, said this makes 41 consecutive months of job growth.

He did not emphasize that the job growth is so slow it's barely making a dent in the unemployment backlog. Republicans are talking about the fact that many people stopped looking for work, as evidenced in this month's jobs report. That's one reason the unemployment rate went down. And Republicans are also talking about the fact that many of the new jobs that were created were part time.

YOUNG: Yeah, and also wages went down, the average pay declined, and you've got fast food workers in rolling walkouts across the country over wages. It's that stubborn, stubborn piece of the economy.

SHAPIRO: Right, and the White House says this is a problem that stretches back before the recession. They say the middle class has been under siege in America for decades, and that is sort of the driving force behind this national economic road trip that President Obama has been doing for the last couple weeks now, including a trip on Tuesday to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

YOUNG: Well, of course he packed the halls with supporters, but still, you know, you went outside those halls at times. I mean, how are people receiving this?

SHAPIRO: Well as you say, these events are styled like campaign events. So you have huge cheering crowds. The White House says that they are trying to get Washington to focus on what the rest of the country has been focused on this entire time. So to a large extent the president's intended audience is Congress because he needs their help for many but not all of the things that he's proposing.

And in Congress the predictable partisan divide keeps playing out. You know, White House aides will say that behind the bluster they are seeing some positive signs that Republicans are willing to work with them on some of these agenda items, but the White House won't name those Republicans, and the Republicans, if they exist, are not coming out and identifying themselves. So basically if an outbreak of bipartisanship is bubbling under the surface, it has yet to break into public view.

YOUNG: Well, and if it is, it might be dissipated over the next month when everybody leaves. So as you've said, you know, it's sort of understood that the president's last month has been laying the groundwork for the fall and the huge budget battle. You just said the White House is claiming some success. What's your sense?

SHAPIRO: The White House is meeting with bipartisan lawmakers, and those meetings are going on for hours, and people are coming out saying generally positive things about them. So, you know, that's a good sign. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting on this front. President Obama has been in some of these meetings, as well.

But, you know, these things never really get resolved until the 11th hour. So while it's a positive sign that the conversations are happening, there are deeply entrenched differences. You look for example at the sequester, these across-the-board cuts. Well, there are some Republicans like Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte who say this is detrimental to the Pentagon, and we have to replace the sequester. The White House also says we also have to replace the sequester. But then there's a whole camp of Republicans who say look, this was a win. We're not eager to get rid of this.

And so the question is whether the White House can divide the Republican Party and peel off enough allies to deal with this when the deadline comes in the fall without a government shutdown or without hitting the debt ceiling and forcing the U.S. to default on its financial obligations.

YOUNG: Well, it's irresistible. The Republican Party seems to be doing a pretty good job of dividing itself right now.

SHAPIRO: That's what keeps Washington interesting.

YOUNG: NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome, have a good weekend.

YOUNG: You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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