photo by vpickering

Now that the debt ceiling fight is over, President Obama has promised to pivot to jobs. The problem is that most of the elements of his so-called jobs initiatives are seriously weak. Calling these items “”jobs programs” might help temporarily prop up Obama’s poll numbers, but in the long run the administration is setting themselves up for big political blowback.

The components of the administration’s jobs agenda are either too weak, only tangentially related to jobs, or even possibly counterproductive. The patent reform working its way through Congress is unlikely to produce many jobs. Similarly, the free trade deals Obama is trying to sell as a way to boost manufacturing jobs could easily do more harm than good. Even if all of them passed, it would be insufficient to address the scale of the problem.

I can understand why the administration is putting forward these items as a jobs program. They correctly know the American people want Washington focused on jobs and the White House also feels these are the only policies they have a chance of passing. It is even likely that by calling these “jobs bills” and then passing them, will cause Obama’s poll numbers to temporarily rise as people think the jobs situation might soon improve.

The problem with this plan is that the American people want Washington to focus on jobs because what they really want is more jobs.

If the unemployment situation improves Obama is good shape, regardless whether he passes anything called a “jobs agenda” or not. On other hand though, if Obama actually gets most of his weak jobs agenda passed and unemployment is still high in 2012, voters will blame Obama. It will be a repeat of the politics of the too-small stimulus bill.

If it is not going to deliver a lot of jobs, don’t call it a jobs agenda. It just fills people with false hope and eventually gets everyone even more angry and it makes the president look incompetent.

Obama would be better off politically if, in addition to the small stuff actually put forward, there was a big easy-to-understand jobs program like directly hiring 2 million Americans to replace every sewer line over 50 years old. It probably wouldn’t get through Congress, but if employment is still high in 2012 Obama could at least try to pull a Harry Truman, blaming the do-nothing Congress for not passing his big jobs plan.

That is not the best campaign message to run on in a bad economy, but it is better than trying to explain how Republicans are to blame for the failure of your jobs agenda, even though they passed it, because they made you preemptively ask for too little.