Now that Republicans in Congress have killed President Obama’s jobs plan and the GOP presidential candidates have failed to put forth any job creation proposals beyond cutting regulations, slashing taxes and spending, and junking health care reform, Bill Clinton has stepped up to the plate with a confident, concrete set of arguments that he says will stimulate growth and create jobs. His new book, Back to Work: Why we Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy, is a combination of respectful critique of the Obama administration’s missteps and support for its core agenda, mixed in with some creative, if not fully fleshed out, policy proposals.
The book is also something of a Rohrschach test for reviewers who either favor or oppose the Democratic economic platform. In The Wall Street Journal today, editorial board member Stephen Moore regrets what he says is the former President’s shift from New Democrat, who cut the deficit, promoted free trade and reformed welfare, to advocate of higher taxes and bloated deficits. “Instead of offering Democrats a road map for a return to the center,” writes Moore, “Back to Work is an ode to big government.” By contrast, Los Angeles Times reviewer Carolyn Kellogg writes that Clinton’s book “has the chutzpah that the Democrats have been missing.”
Clinton says he decided to write the book after the 2010 midterm elections, not because the Democrats took such a beating but, he writes, because “the election season offered few opportunities for a real discussion of what went wrong,” and how the president and Congress could remedy the situation in the short and long term. The U.S. is “in a mess now,” he writes, and the book is meant as a roadmap out of the mire.
The book includes 46 policy proposals, some of which even The Wall Street Journal favors: an immigration system that welcomes high-skilled workers, raising the Social Security retirement age, giving U.S. companies tax credits when they use funds to create American jobs, and a proposal to bring the corporate tax rate down to 28% from 35%.
At the same time, Clinton calls for measures that conservatives vehemently oppose, like higher individual taxes, including taxes on small-business owners, and a 12% payroll tax on high-income earners, plus tax increases on capital gains and dividends. Clinton favors President Obama’s plan to raise the capital gains rate from 15% to 23.8%.
The former president also favors government spending, on infrastructure, student loans, job training, manufacturing, broadband, high-speed rail, and development of alternative energy sources like biofuel, solar and wind.
He also says, rather vaguely, that he believes Americans should “export more services,” and concentrate on “high-end manufacturing and getting smaller companies into exports,” though he doesn’t say exactly how.
Another idea that’s unlikely to come to pass: making one or two states, like Nevada with its potential for solar and wind energy, “completely energy independent” by “maximizing their capacity to produce and consume energy.” The former President also advocates a “value added tax” that would “help to increase our exports, because they escape the last step of tax.”
In a thoughtful New York Times review today, Michiko Kakutani points out that the book has a “passive-aggressive subtext.” The former President is trying to convince Americans to support policies that the current President has failed to sell to Congress and the American people. Clinton also writes that the president and Democrats should have raised the debt ceiling in late 2010, before they lost their majority in Congress. Such a move could have avoided the wrenching negotiations over the summer, which hurt U.S. credibility at home and abroad.
Kakutani also notes that Clinton skims over the fact that much of the deregulation that led to the credit crisis took place during his tenure. For instance, in late 1999, he signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed parts of the Glass-Steagall Act, prohibiting commercial banks from getting into the investment business.
Clinton’s books tend to sell well and the President will be making a number of appearances to promote his message. Always a forceful, articulate speaker, he will surely rouse some attention. But given the extreme polarization in Washington, it’s tough to imagine much forward movement on his long list of proposals.