The jobs plan that President Obama is set to announce in his (rescheduled) Thursday address to Congress is reportedly a mix of tax cuts, aid to local governments, and spending on infrastructure. More than half of the $300 billion estimated total would come from extensions of payroll tax breaks and unemployment benefits. Another portion of the total, perhaps $30 billion, will come from proposed benefits to businesses that hire the unemployed. Spending on public works will probably be somewhat less than the $50 million that's been called for by some on the left. There's also the possibility of a "moratorium" on certain regulations (excluding health care and financial regulations) that, like the president's willingness last week to loosen crucial environmental regulations, won't be well received in liberal quarters.
The big political question in Washington, of course, will be how any spending increases are matched against deficit reductions. Obama won't focus on that in tomorrow's speech, according to Jay Carney — though surely just about every Republican response to the proposal will address it sharply. Mitch McConnell has already seized the day with an entirely predictable response, telling the AP that the proposal is "more of the same failed approach that’s only made things worse over the past few years."
But thanks to our system of democracy, there's something for Democrats to criticize, too: Mitt Romney unveiled his own economic plan on Tuesday night, which cuts spending, mines more natural gas, oil, and coal, cuts taxes for corporations, and sanctions China for its currency manipulation. It sounds, at least in that very abstract description, like a plan tailor-made to get Republicans on board — and yet the Wall Street Journal absolutely savaged the Romney proposal, calling it "surprisingly timid" and "a technocrat's guide more than a reform manifesto." The paper does nod approvingly at his embrace of private industry as a driver of recovery, but by its lights, Romney doesn't go far enough.
The answer may lie in his proposal to eliminate the capital gains tax—but only for those who earn less than $200,000 a year. This eviscerates most of the tax cut's economic impact and also suggests that he's afraid of Mr. Obama's class warfare rhetoric. He even picked Mr. Obama's trademark income threshold for the capital gains cut-off.
If Mr. Romney thinks this will let him dodge a class warfare debate, he's fooling himself. Democrats will hit him anyway for opposing Mr. Obama's proposal to raise taxes on higher incomes, dividends and capital gains in 2013. Perhaps Mr. Romney feels that his wealth and background make him especially vulnerable to the class charge, but if he won't openly make the economic case for lower tax rates he'll never get Congress to go along.
Of course, on the left, Paul Krugman is probably staring at this morning's headlines about the relatively minor spending on infrastructure and queuing up his sad-song playlist. For both Obama and Romney, their economic blueprints couldn't be more crucial to the 2012 race and for building support within their respective parties. The Daily News frames Obama's jobs plan as a last chance to counter the "growing perception" among Dems and voters that he isn't up to the task of fixing the economy. The Times frames the problem slightly more generously. The paper says his advisors think he has three months to reverse his downward trajectory, and reshape the narrative of his supposed capitulation to the right, which "risks pleasing neither the center nor the left, the story of much of his time in office."
In some ways, then, Obama's jobs plan is almost as much a gambit for keeping his as it is for getting more to American workers.