Focusing on Afghanistan and healthcare in recent months, the administration has received criticism for not placing a greater emphasis on job creation as the unemployment rate rose to 10.2%. At the forum, Obama has always put employment on the front burner and announced he will deliver a major speech on the economy this Tuesday. During the speech, he is expected to offer new initiatives like providing weatherization incentives for homeowners and small businesses, an idea modeled after the “cash for clunkers” auto rebate program that he shared during the forum’s energy-related session.
White House officials also maintain the forum’s development was not in response to critics who maintain the $787 billion stimulus package has yet to gain traction. In an interview with Black Enterprise, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett asserted that “the stimulus package is doing exactly what it was intended to do.” She added, “In January, when the president was inaugurated, we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. That number has dropped precipitously since then, but until every single American that wants a job is working, we won’t be satisfied. The President has said, ‘Now that we have taken the critical steps to stop the downward spiral and we’re seeing a trajectory in the right direction, what more can we do to jumpstart job creation.’ ” The sessions, she says, were a means to find that answer.
The forum, however, garnered a bevy of critics. Chief among them was the Republican National Committee, which characterized the event as an example of “political slight-of-hand.” In a statement, Chairman Michael Steele said, “The White House jobs summit is another example of President Obama’s PR presidency where he stages photo-ops and events to distract citizens and the media from his administration’s failures. If this jobs summit is anything like the previous fiscal responsibility summit then Americans should expect nothing but vague political overtures and empty promises.”
Some Congressional Black Caucus members have voiced concern about the exclusion of Capitol Hill representatives from the proceedings. “No Congressperson or senator that I know of is a part of this. I think that’s a mistake because in the final analysis legislation is what’s going to be required,” says Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Florida).
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) says that the House and Senate are already proposing jobs creation bills in which “the CBC will play a very significant role.” Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) says, “I’m hoping we’ll use TARP funds to do it and I hope it will happen soon. I think there’s somewhere around $75 billion from TARP that will be used for this. I’m hopeful that $20-$25 billion of it can be for direct public service jobs with senior and youth components in it.”
Jarrett says the Obama administration is fully supportive of such legislation and will work with Congress on its passage. In the meantime, the administration will still solicit ideas from a variety of sources.
In the closing session, the president told the group that the conversations will continue. “I want to assure you that this is just the start of this interaction that we’re having with you. We’ll probably set up some working groups coming out of this. And the input that we’re soliciting from you is going to be continuous.”
Joyce Jones contributed to this article.