In his Saturday radio address, President Obama acknowledged the White House is exploring "additional options to promote job creation." It's about time. This is the worst job market in 70 years -- including the longest duration of steep job losses.
If anyone had any doubt that something far more dramatic must be done, listen to former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. He warned Sunday against further stimulus because "we are in a recovery, and I think it would be a mistake to say the September numbers alter that significantly." Greenspan has turned into an inverse soothsayer. After his cataclysmic error about where the economy was headed before the meltdown, his views about the future should be carefully noted as being the exact opposite of what's likely to be in store.
The economy may be in a technical recovery, but this is not a real recovery, and the "green shoots" or "positive signs" that Wall Street cheerleaders love to shout about are phantoms of their ever-optimistic imaginations. The stimulus is working but it is far from adequate. Before the stimulus, we were losing more than 500,000 jobs a month. Now that 40 percent of the stimulus has been spent, we are losing more than 250,000 jobs a month.
What to do? With the debt ceiling approaching and the gravitational pull of the 2010 elections increasing, the White House can't go back to Congress with a formal bill to enlarge the stimulus package. Four simpler moves would be to:
(1) Use existing authority under both the stimulus package enacted earlier this year and the nefarious TARP bailout fund -- extending and combining them into a fund to make up for state and local cuts in public school budgets, children's health, public health (we need workers to administer swine flu vaccine) and public transportation. Instead of bailing out banks and giant automakers, we should switch to bailing out public services that average people need.
(2) Propose a one-year payroll tax holiday on the first $20,000 of income. Republicans as well as Blue Dog Dems could go along with this, and it would be a highly progressive tax cut since 80 percent of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes.
(3) Give small businesses a "new jobs tax credit" for every net new job created over the next year. Granted, under normal circumstances this sort of jobs credit doesn't have much effect, and it's difficult to separate hires that would have happened anyway from net new ones. But we're not in normal circumstances; small businesses, which are responsible for most new jobs, still aren't hiring. They need a boost.
(4) Dramatically expand the Small Business Administration's lending programs and have the Fed buy up the SBA's debt. Big banks are not lending to small businesses. TARP has been an utter failure in this regard. The SBA and the Fed should circumvent them and help small businesses get the capital they need, so they can start hiring again.
The politics of these four steps aren't difficult. It would be hard to get a new stimulus package through Congress, but no member who's up for reelection next year when unemployment is likely to be in double digits wants to be accused by rivals of voting against steps to help small businesses, public schools, children's health, and average working people who need a tax cut.