The White House and The Root: Open for Questions

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor and assistant to President Obama for Public Engagement and Intergovernment Affairs, talks about the American Jobs Act and a new report from the White House on Creating Pathways to Opportunity. Cynthia Gordy, Washington reporter for The Root, is moderating a Q&A with the White House tonight and talks about the kinds of questions readers of The Root want the White House to answer about the Jobs Act.

→ Event: Tonight at 5:30 p.m., White House officials Valerie Jarrett and Melody Barnes take questions at The Root!

While on Wall Street and in cities nationwide and even worldwide, protesters continue to push for better income equality, the President continues on his job tour, taking his new job-creation bill to the American people to try to garner support. Jarrett said the administration understands that people are unhappy about inequality.

There’s a great deal of frustration around the country… some people who are doing well are doing very, very well, but a lot of people are suffering, and they’ve been struggling.  This isn’t just the result f the most recent economic downturn that the president inherited, there are people who have been suffering for a very long time, and I think their frustration is really bubbling to the surface.

Jeffrey Sachs writes in his new book that the top one percent now own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth and CEOs make one thousand times the pay of the average worker. Jarrett said the government has paid a role in creating these conditions, and that has been one of the reasons that the president has aggressively pursued Dodd-Frank reform.

We needed rules of the road to make sure that people are not taking excessive risks that have a devastating impact on everyone else.

People protesting right now may have welcomed the idea of Dodd-Frank, but the protests seem to be about much more, like fundamentally restructuring inequality in America. Jarrett said Dodd-Frank was still an important first step.

Gordy said the White House had released a report last week “Creating Pathways to Opportunity”, which detailed steps the administration has taken to help low-income Americans.

We thought that would be a really meaty conversation subject for officials to dig into with everyday people.

Readers of the Root were invited to submit questions, through email and twitter, for the event this afternoon. Gordy said many of the questions they have been receiving are from people who want to know what opportunities are available to them now, and what actions the administration is taking now, especially around jobs, health care and education. A prevalent theme centers on what the president has done for African-Americans. Jarrett said the president has done much, most notably in the passage of the health care reform bill. In addition she pointed to the president’s initiatives to get the long-term unemployed back to work and extending unemployment benefits.

The jobs bill was defeated as a package deal in the Senate, and the plan now seems to be to try to pass components of the plan separately instead. The first component might be $35 million in aid to state and local governments. Jarrett said that the Jobs Act has the potential to be just as effective in pieces as it would have been as a package.

The president is going to take each piece of the jobs act, and he’s going to ask Congress to vote on each piece… The president is going to say, piece by piece, stand up and explain why you say we should preserve tax breaks for the very wealthy but we shouldn’t fund our nations schools. Each piece we’re going to bring up week after week after week, and we’re not going to give up until we’ve voted on every single element of this bill.

Gordy said there is a lot of recognition among poverty experts that the administration has done a lot to combat poverty.

There’s also some concern that the efforts may not be robust enough or on scale to alleviate a problem that’s so entrenched.

She said a lot of the efforts to combat poverty are somewhat obscured by the abundance of language about helping the middle-class, leaving an impression that the low-income are not being heard. 

Jarrett said criticism that economic advisers Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers are too close to Wall Street and have led the president astray on economic policy is unfounded.

They were extremely exacting in promoting the federal regulatory reform that went through Congress, those two individuals worked aggressively – fighting against, I might add, huge amounts of money that lobbyists on Wall Street spent to try to kept hat bill from being passed. Those two were quite vigilant in making sure that it did pass.