Ag secretary to stump for Obama's jobs bill

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 23, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be wearing his salesman's hat Monday when he swings by Sacramento.

Along with other Obama administration cabinet officials, Vilsack is out stumping the country in support of the president's proposed American Jobs Act. With Republicans controlling the House, he's got his work cut out for him.

"They are really highlighting the administration's strategy on strengthening the economy," Agriculture Department spokeswoman Stephanie Chan said of the Sacramento meetings. "They want to emphasize that."

President Barack Obama is placing his policy and political hopes in a 412-page jobs bill, introduced in the Senate on Sept. 13 and in the House on Sept. 21. It includes some provisions with bipartisan appeal and others that are certain to fail.

Congressional Republicans, for instance, appear sympathetic to certain tax cuts but resistant to $4 billion in new high-speed rail spending.

More generally, Republicans and even some Democrats appear skeptical about anything that resembles excessive stimulus spending. This raises doubts about the future of more than $100 billion in infrastructure and state aid programs proposed in the bill.

"If you really want to help ... then come back to Washington and work with Republicans on legislation that will actually do something to revive our economy and create jobs," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell advised Obama in a Senate floor speech Thursday. "And forget the political theater."

The administration and its allies, nonetheless, are marketing the overall package with rallies, ads, travel and lots of local angles.

In swing states like Virginia and Colorado, the Democratic National Committee has begun airing broadcast and cable television ads in support of the jobs bill. Earlier this week, Democratic activists waved pro-jobs bill banners from bridges in South Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Wisc., and other locations.

For all 50 states, the White House has prepared individual fact sheets that purport to identify the precise number of beneficiaries from the jobs bill.

In California, the jobs bill is supposed to provide $3.9 billion in transportation funding that would support "approximately 51,500 local jobs." Similarly, the bill is supposed to deliver $3.6 billion to California to "support up to 37,300 educator and first responder jobs."

The overall proposed bill has an estimated price tag of $447 billion, with slightly more than half of this from various tax cuts.

"This is not a vague plan," Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, said Friday. "It is a specific, comprehensive and tangible piece of legislation that when enacted will help put America back to work."

Matsui will be among those joining Vilsack at several events Monday. A closed-door meeting in the morning will bring together Sacramento-area business, community and agricultural leaders to hear the jobs-bill pitch.

"We really want to hear from local people," Chan said.

An 11 a.m. news conference at the Port of Stockton will broadcast the administration's message to a broader audience.

On Tuesday, as part of the same campaign, Vilsack will move on to Portland, Ore. This is his life now. On Sept. 16, Vilsack was in Pittsburgh, Penn., to promote the jobs bill through a similar combination of press conference and what the administration calls a "White House Business Council" with local business leaders.

"The American Jobs Act provides common-sense steps we can take right now to put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans, without adding a dime to the deficit," Vilsack said in Pittsburgh, foreshadowing words likely to be repeated in Sacramento.

Follow Michael Doyle on Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10

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