Media coverage of this mass of words concentrated on the issue of immigration, because that’s where conflict is most expected. Shorter shrift was given to the big offer to Republicans with which the president opened his conference: more infrastructure spending in exchange for corporate tax reform.
Here’s the way Obama phrased it: “We all agree on the need to create more jobs that pay well. Traditionally, both parties have been for creating jobs rebuilding our infrastructure—our roads, bridges, ports, waterways. I think we can hone in on a way to pay for it through tax reform that closes loopholes and makes it more attractive for companies to create jobs here in the United States.”
The phrase “we all agree” is usually a signal that one should pat to confirm that one’s wallet remains in the pocket. Except during moments of recessionary emergency, the point of infrastructure spending is to build useful and cost-effective public improvements, not to “create jobs.” The jobs are an added benefit, not the purpose. Yet throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has been fascinated by public-sector investment as a permanent, not temporary, solution to the challenge of jobs and wages. Public-sector-led growth was the central concept of his speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, in December 2011, advertised at the time as the most detailed explication of the president’s economic ideas.