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Obama canvasses for ideas on job creation

Solicits plans that can yield quick results

By Tom Raum
Associated Press / December 4, 2009

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WASHINGTON - President Obama promised at a White House jobs forum yesterday to take “every responsible step to accelerate job creation,’’ including some “exciting ideas and proposals’’ from forum participants he hoped could be put into action quickly to help put millions of Americans back to work.

“Digging ourselves out of the hole we have dug into is not going to be easy,’’ he said as he wrapped up a half-day brainstorming session with 130 CEOs, small business and union leaders, and economists whom he challenged to come up with innovative ideas that would provide the “biggest bang for the buck.’’

The president said there were some ideas - an expanded program to help make more homes energy-efficient and possible new tax incentives - that could be put to work almost immediately, and said other ideas will become part of legislation for Congress to consider.

But, mindful of growing anxiety about federal deficits, Obama also tempered his upbeat talk with an acknowledgment that government resources could only go so far and that it is primarily up to the private sector to create large numbers of jobs.

Earlier yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that one way to create jobs is to use leftover money from the Wall Street bailout to pay for new spending on roads and bridges and save the jobs of firefighters, teachers, and other public employees.

About $210 billion of the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program money remains uncommitted or has been paid back; Bank of America Corp. announced Wednesday that it would repay its $45 billion in government bailout money. The administration has been wary of using TARP funds for other purposes, but after talks with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other officials, congressional Democrats are looking at as much as $70 billion.

But Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, said he believes TARP money should go back to the Treasury to help reduce the deficit.

Pelosi did not give a price tag on a new jobs initiative that she said she hopes can pass this month. She said, however, that it would come on top of a costly “safety net’’ initiative that would again extend unemployment payments for those whose benefits have run out and renew a program that offers the jobless a 65 percent subsidy for health insurance premiums under the COBRA program.

Most of what Pelosi described were ideas included in February’s $787 billion economic recovery bill, though even the most ardent supporters of that measure wish it were doing more to boost jobs. “We want to build upon what has been successful for us,’’ she said.

One new idea Democrats and the White House are looking at is a program to give people cash incentives to retrofit their homes with energy-saving materials along the lines of the Cash for Clunkers program that boosted car sales this summer.

Republicans, meanwhile, staged their own jobs forum across town, inviting a team of mostly conservative economists to a roundtable discussion on jobs.

Today, Obama will visit hard-hit Allentown, Pa., to reinforce the official administration message as the government releases unemployment figures for last month.