Obama job creation panel suggests modest steps
DURHAM, North Carolina
DURHAM, North Carolina (Reuters) - With few tools left to fix the economy, President Barack Obama pledged on Monday to act on job-boosting ideas from a panel of corporate executives whose modest proposals failed to offer a quick fix for stubbornly high unemployment.
Obama's jobs council, led by General Electric chief Jeffrey Immelt, called for measures to cut red tape, provide more loans, invest in energy efficiency and attract more tourists, many of which have been suggested before.
The president, whose 2012 re-election prospects hinge on his ability to address unemployment, was enthusiastic about the panel's recommendations but made no specific commitments.
"I promise you we we're going to act on a range of these recommendations," Obama said.
"There are some common-sense ideas that we can all embrace to make ourselves more competitive that should not be subject to the usual political gamesmanship."
With opinion polls showing Americans unhappy with Obama's stewardship of the economy, he has been counting on fresh ideas from the jobs council, which includes the CEOs of Eastman Kodak, American Express, DuPont, Xerox and others.
The panel's proposals were helpful but not nearly enough with unemployment above 9 percent, said Sherle Schwenninger, director of economic growth and American strategy with the nonpartisan New America Foundation.
"I generally view the jobs council as operating within the current serious political constraints. These are extremely modest suggestions in terms of the scale of the problem," Schwenninger said.
Monday marked the second meeting of the full panel, which Obama inaugurated in March to brainstorm on the economy and find ways to encourage business growth and employment.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, dismissed the North Carolina event as a "photo op" and signaled more pressure from Congress on Obama to cut deficits, not spend, ahead of the 2012 vote.
"Photo ops with business leaders only reinforce that no one in this administration has ideas to create the private sector jobs our economy desperately needs," he said. "Republicans have a Plan for American Job Creators, and we hope the president will work with us to implement it."
The Democratic president's record on the economy is seen as his weak spot into 2012, and seven Republican presidential contenders were expected to hit the issue hard on Monday evening in their first major debate.
Obama has been trying to show that the tools he has used so far -- including a big economic stimulus package, the auto and financial sector bailouts and a tax-cut deal reached last year -- have stabilized an economy that was in freefall when he took office and put it on the path to full recovery.
"Today, the single most serious economic problem we face is getting people back to work. We stabilized the economy. We prevented a financial meltdown. An economy that was shrinking is now growing. We've added more than 2 million private sector jobs over the last 15 months alone," he said on Monday in North Carolina, a state he narrowly won in 2008.
Obama's hands may be tied on new efforts to spur hiring. Analysts see little scope for him to deliver more economic stimulus with Republicans opposing added government spending that adds to debt and annual deficits.
The member companies of the White House jobs council will hire 100,000 people in the United States in 2011, according to GE spokesman Andrew Williams.
Still, some executives on the panel have a record of cutting jobs.
Antonio Perez, CEO of Eastman Kodak, embarked on a pricey restructuring plan in 2003 that slashed more than 45,000 jobs as the photographic film market collapsed, shrinking the company's payroll to around 18,000.
Immelt slashed thousands of jobs during the downturn as his storied company struggled to weather a credit crunch that forced its lending unit, GE Capital, to seek a government guarantee for $139 billion in debt.
GE, the world's largest maker of jet engines and electric turbines, laid off 19,000 workers globally in 2009 -- about 6 percent of its workforce. But it will add 16,000 manufacturing and high-tech services jobs in the United States in 2010 and 2011, Williams said.