Published January 31, 2013
WASHINGTON – As new weekly jobs numbers emerged Thursday showing a jump in unemployment claims and a report released the previous day showed the economy shrinking in late 2012, President Obama is effectively laying off his jobs council.
The layoff -- which comes in the form of the administration not renewing the council, which sunsets Thursday -- takes off the table a first-term panel set up to field ideas from the business community for spurring growth. But the administration was accused all along of never taking full advantage of the group at a time when the economy desperately needed those ideas.
The council itself, a group of business and labor leaders, hasn't met officially in more than a year. The group was tasked with making recommendations to Obama to help create jobs, but the 26 members only met four times in two years.
As the council expires Thursday with no plans to extend it, House Speaker John Boehner's office panned the president's alleged disinterest in the group.
"To understand the abysmal nature of our economic recovery, look no further than the president's disinterest in learning lessons from actual job creators," spokesman Brendan Buck said. "Whether ignoring the group or rejecting its recommendations, the president treated his Jobs Council as more of a nuisance than a vehicle to spur job creation."
But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the council "was always intended" to expire after two years, and said "the work that the jobs council did was very helpful."
Further, Carney said the White House would "begin a new, expanded effort to work with the business community and other outside groups to advance specific policy priorities promoted by the jobs council -- including expanded new skills and talent initiatives, promoting entrepreneurship and small businesses, expediting permitting for infrastructure projects across the country and continuing progress on fiscal issues and tax reform."
The White House says that the president took "action" on 33 of the council's 35 recommendations in the first year and implemented 16 of them.
Now as it comes to an end, administration officials say Obama has met with dozens of CEOs since the election -- separate from the jobs council -- and doesn't feel compelled to work only through that panel.
But Republicans say the president is putting the economy on the back-burner.
"Instead of taking real action, like renewing his Jobs Council or approving the Keystone Pipeline, President Obama has moved on to his second-term liberal agenda," the National Republican Congressional Committee said in a statement. "But with 12 million Americans unemployed and a national debt over $16 trillion, shouldn't President Obama keep his eye on the ball and work to find real solutions to create jobs and tackle our out-of-control spending?"
When Obama in January 2011 formed his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, unemployment was hovering above 9 percent. Two years later, more than 12 million people in the U.S. are out of work. The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.8 percent, but both parties agree that's still too high.
Officials said the president always intended for the council to fulfill its mission and then wind down, and said Obama would continue to actively engage and seek input from business leaders about ways to accelerate job-creation and economic growth. Among the steps Obama plans to pursue are expedited permits for infrastructure projects, plus programs to boost entrepreneurship and workforce development.
Adding to the concern about the job market's continued vulnerability, the Commerce Department said Wednesday that the U.S. economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.1 percent from October through December of last year, the first quarterly drop since 2009. The Federal Reserve said the economy appears to have "paused in recent months."
The jobs council was a successor to another economic advisory board Obama created at the onset of his presidency. The panel was chaired by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and was composed of prominent business leaders and economists. Immelt said Thursday that progress has been made on implementing 90 percent of the council's recommendations.
The jobs council's main work product report was released in January 2012, titled "Roadmap to Renewal." The council also organized a series of "listening and action" meetings across the country last year with business owners, local elected officials and academics, although Obama didn't attend those sessions.
Critics have argued that the council's primary purpose was to create the appearance of action at a time when the nation was pining for something -- anything -- to rein in soaring joblessness. The administration acted on many of the council's recommendations, including suggestions to streamline the permits process and small business loans, increase tourist visas and boost energy efficiency.
But the White House was at odds with several council members on tax policies, particularly a proposal to exclude overseas corporate earnings from U.S. taxes. That idea divided even the jobs council, whose membership included labor and Obama's political allies.
The council's dissolution also comes as White House aides are optimistic about the prospects for a second-term detente with the business community, which bristled during Obama's first term at his harsh depiction of "fat-cat bankers" and his efforts to impose regulations, tax policies and spending initiatives they argued were unfriendly to business. Obama aides hope the softening of the relationship between the president and the business world can benefit the White House in future fiscal debates with Republicans.
Fox News' Molly Henneberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.