Facing rising unemployment rates and having seen uncertain results from the stimulus bill, President Obama is hosting a “jobs summit” at the White House Thursday that will be packed with business leaders and economists supportive of White House policies but lacks a diversity of opinion, several analysts say.
Missing from a partial list of attendees released by the White House are the self-proclaimed voices of business – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business – both of which have been critical of Mr. Obama’s proposed health care overhaul.
Confirmed attendees include liberal economists credited with shaping the $787 billion stimulus package, union leaders, environmental advocates and executives from Google and other blue-chip firms.
“He’s going to get lots of recommendations to spend more money,” said Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “These are the very same people who gave us the stimulus package. My feeling is we’re not going to get what we need, and that’s a complete change in direction on economic policy.”
A spokeswoman for the White House would not comment for the record on the format or how the list of participants was drawn up. A full list of attendees is expected to be released Thursday.
More federal spending to generate jobs is a likely subject at Thursday’s summit given that guests will include economists such as Paul Krugman, who has argued that the first stimulus package was not large enough. Likewise, chiefs of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, both of whom are slated to be in attendance, have called for more federal dollars to aid states experiencing budget shortfalls.
“My chief concern is that the list features no serious and prominent labor economist, which seems essential to offering a sound, long-run policy to put us on a path of lower unemployment,” said John Coleman, an economics professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
Representatives from NFIB and the Chamber of Commerce said their organizations were not asked to attend, but representatives from some of the country’s largest unions, Change to Win and the United Steelworkers, will participate.
In an open letter to Mr. Obama on Tuesday, Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue outlined a series of proposals to stimulate job growth, including eliminating protectionist trade barriers, reducing the deficit and eliminating unnecessary regulation.
The nation’s unemployment rate has climbed steadily throughout Mr. Obama’s presidency – from 7.6 percent in January to 10.2 percent in October – leading critics to question the effectiveness of unprecedented levels of government spending in his first 10 months in office.
The administration may have snubbed business trade associations but invited more than a dozen chief executive officers of large and small businesses, including Rose Wang, president of the Binary Group, an Arlington government contractor. Ms. Wang said she plans to suggest tax credits for new entrepreneurs and workers who go back to school to learn new skills.
“I think I speak for all small-business owners that we want to be a part of the solution,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Google said the Internet giant is “looking forward to having [CEO Eric Schmidt] join other American corporate leaders to help find a way forward.”
“We have and will continue to meet with both Republicans and Democrats to discuss how technology can help fuel an economic recovery,” spokeswoman Mistique Cano said.
Several analysts said the summit is unlikely to amount to more than window dressing without a balanced guest list.
“The panel does not include free-market voices who will contend the administration is spending too much or interfering too much in the economy, or that it is hurting job creation by increasing the burden of taxes and government debt,” said Josh Barro, a senior fellow on fiscal policy at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute. “I expect these economists will generally call for more Keynesian stimulus – more deficit spending and more aid to state governments.”
The continued joblessness has led congressional Democrats to begin drafting a so-called “jobs bill” that could include business tax credits for new employees, infrastructure spending and extended unemployment benefits.
But their last major effort at job creation has spurred much debate, with Mr. Obama’s credibility – and his pledge that the stimulus will create or save 3.5 million jobs by September 2010 – on the line.
Last month, the Government Accountability Office said the job creation numbers reported by contractors – about 640,000 so far – are sketchy. The Congressional Budget Office concurred on Monday, saying “it is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package.”
But the CBO said its own economic models show that the package may have helped sustain an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million workers than would have been the case without the spending. CBO also said gross domestic product, a measure of the size of the economy, may have been 1.2 percent and 3.2 percent larger thanks to the spending.
Mr. Obama has a mixed track record when it comes to soliciting balanced views at White House forums. On health care, he initially invited a broad cross-section but in recent months has focused more on Democrats. On immigration, his June summit was stacked mostly with lawmakers who support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and he excluded one prominent critic, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who is the top Republican on the immigration subcommittee in the House.
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