By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON Jan 31 The White House on Thursday
disbanded President Barack Obama's jobs council, a group of
high-profile chief executives who gave advice on how to spur
employment growth, even as 12 million Americans remain out of
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the council was set up
with a two-year lifespan that was now expiring.
But Republicans quickly pounced on its demise as sign that
Obama lacked credibility on jobs, noting it came the day after
data showed the U.S. economy contracted in the fourth quarter.
In place of the jobs council, the administration said it
will begin an expanded effort to work with the business
community and other groups to boost economic growth, cut debt
and fix a broken immigration system.
"It's a broad engagement strategy to make sure the
president's message is getting out to the American people,
because with their voices involved we think that we can still do
big things," Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, his point person on
working with business, told Reuters in a recent interview.
The jobs council, chaired by Jeff Immelt of General Electric
, had not met with Obama for more than a year.
From its start, it was an easy target for critics because
its ability to act was limited, and its mandate was to serve a
modest advisory role to the president.
The U.S. jobless rate hangs stubbornly at 7.8 percent, down
from a peak of 10 percent in the depth of the recession after
Obama took office in January 2009. Economists expect a report on
Friday to show little improvement.
"Over the past four years, President Obama has seemed far
more interested in political show votes and tax gimmicks than
actually focusing on what Americans need: more jobs," said
Senator Mitch McConnell, top Republican in the Senate.
LIST OF IDEAS
The council was created in January 2011 as Obama sought to
soothe businesses alarmed at the potential cost of his health
care reforms and sweeping regulations on banks.
Obama recruited Immelt, a Republican, to lead the jobs
council and met four times with them.
The panel's job was to give Obama advice on strengthening
the economy and get more people back to work. It collected 90
recommendations on investing in infrastructure, streamlining
permits for large projects and ramping up education.
Of the 60 ideas that could be done without Congress, the
administration made "significant progress" on 54 of them,
according to a report from the council in December.
For example, Obama told federal agencies to look for ways to
get rid of redundant regulations, even as new health care and
financial regulations were added. Visa wait times for tourists
from key markets like China and Brazil were reduced.
Carney blamed Republicans in Congress for blocking
legislation that would have created more infrastructure jobs.
Policy experts said that while jobs councils and other
business engagement strategies can be helpful, Obama needs to
find concrete ways to grow the economy.
"If he doesn't have growth, he could find himself in an
unhappy midterm (election) and without the political capital to
get what he wants to get done," said Elaine Kamarck, who was a
top adviser in the Clinton White House and now leads a
management initiative at the Brookings Institution think-tank.
The White House emphasized that it has continued to talk
with business in other ways. For example, on Wednesday, senior
White House officials spoke with Greg Brown of Motorola,
Dan Akerson of General Motors and others on Obama's
immigration reform proposals.
John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, which
represents large companies, said he is also encouraged that
Obama recently told the business community he might back some
sort of territorial tax system.
Corporate America has said such a regime, which would exempt
offshore corporate profits from U.S. taxation, would make
businesses more competitive against foreign rivals.
"We are not worried about our ability to communicate with
the president and White House staff. We think that will be
fine," Engler said.