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On eve of Obama's jobs speech, we're suddenly awash in ideas to boost employment

Move over, President Obama. Now everybody thinks they know how to create jobs.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a bunch of ideas. CEOs in Florida and nationwide have some. Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has just churned out 59 ways, count 'em, he believes will produce new jobs and help the economy.

After four years of economic hell and with a new recession threatening, where have you idea guys been hiding?

In the days leading up to the president's evening speech today on how to get more people back to work, this country is suddenly awash with employment suggestions.

Here's the trick. The U.S. jobless rate is stalled at 9.1 percent. Florida's is higher at 10.7 percent. The country had a net gain of zero jobs in August. And the president's approval ratings are in the tank. Can Obama be forceful enough in the face of Republican opposition to actually spur big numbers of new jobs?

Or will this speech become a too-little, too-late bit of theater that will confirm what political polls already tell a cynical population: Washington is bloated with ideologues but desperately lacking in leadership, no matter the party.

Without leaders, without raising the nation's confidence, it's going to be tough to convince America's wary business world to start hiring.

Getting back to work is paramount to America. A survey conducted this month by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Washington Post found that when asked which economic issue worries them most, nearly twice as many Americans cited the job situation as the federal budget deficit (43 to 22 percent).

How to get back to work is fuzzy. "There is less clarity in the public's views about ideas to address the job situation — many are seen as helping at least a little, but no specific proposal emerges as a silver bullet," the Pew study concludes.

This week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out with sprawling ads in newspapers that say Washington can help generate 2 million-plus jobs by expanding trade, spurring more domestic energy exploration and promoting tourism more aggressively overseas. Giving tax breaks to encourage U.S. companies to bring their foreign earnings back to the United States would add another 2.9 million jobs in two years, the chamber claims.

Romney's 59 ideas read more like a laundry list than a focused plan. But here's one valid proposal: Provide visas to smart and ambitious foreigners getting advanced degrees in U.S. universities so they would be more inclined to stay in this country and use their brainpower here rather than back home.

Two Florida businessmen repeated the familiar pitch for "less regulation, lower taxes" to the Wall Street Journal this week as their jobs advice to Obama.

Juan Davis, owner of Fast Lane Clothing Co. in Tampa, said lower taxes would help his 24-year-old clothing business grow. And James T. Prokopanko, CEO of the phosphate giant Mosaic Co., argued that less uncertainty over regulations and litigation could spell the difference in his company making "two different billion-dollar investments" in Central Florida over the next five years.

Obama's proposals today likely will be more general. He's expected to boost job growth by injecting more than $300 billion into the economy next year, mostly through tax cuts, infrastructure spending and direct aid to state and local governments. If this sounds like another stimulus package, well, it is. But he will call on Congress to offset the cost of his short-term jobs measures by raising tax revenue in later years.

Obama also may raise the idea of an "infrastructure bank" that could get construction workers — among those hardest hit by the recession — repairing America roads, building schools and retrofitting commercial buildings. The good news is that many private corporations, hoarding cash by the billions rather than investing it in expansion or new jobs, may find the concept of freshening the nation's creaking infrastructure a goal worth investing in with private funds.

So much of what happens to the president's proposals this evening boils down to this: Will Congress just say "no" and go back to its partisan warfare in advance of the 2012 elections?

Washington's willingness or reluctance to move a very troubled country forward now may well spell the difference between a slow recovery or renewed recession.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

On eve of Obama's jobs speech, we're suddenly awash in ideas to boost employment 09/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 12:15am]

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