By SARAH MEEHAN
WASHINGTON (September 9, 2011)—Most Maryland political public servants on Thursday said they were skeptical that a bipartisan agreement on President Obama's jobs plan could be reached.
But there is a glimmer of consensus.
An unlikely advocate, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, one of two Republicans representing the state, said he supported crucial parts of Obama's proposal, such as payroll tax cuts for small businesses. And he praised Georgia's work plan—the model for the federal bill—which allows people to collect unemployment insurance at temporary jobs as they search for permanent positions.
Based on ideas from both Republicans and Democrats, the American Jobs Act would stimulate the economy through providing tax cuts to businesses, investing in infrastructure, revamping Medicare and Medicaid and increasing taxes on corporations, Obama explained in a speech to a joint session of Congress Thursday.
"The president has put forward a very attractive plan from a political perspective as well as an economic perspective," said Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group. "It's very hard for Republicans to turn down tax cuts."
And while Bartlett's commitment alone is not enough to ensure the bill will pass the House of Representatives without a hitch, it indicates that Republicans may be willing to compromise.
Maryland's other Republican representative, Cockeysville Rep. Andy Harris, was not as receptive as Bartlett, though he said granting tax breaks to companies that hire veterans is an initiative both sides can get behind. The rest, he said, is old news.
"I think it was disappointing because I don't think we heard much new; it just sounds like another stimulus bill," Harris said. "Temporary payroll tax cuts didn't work before and I don't think it'll work again."
The state's Democratic politicians said they thought the president took the right approach.
"I'm very satisfied with his emphasis on infrastructure. It's the right focus," said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson. "We can create lots of jobs in a short period of time. We need the investment in infrastructure. There's lots of bridges, tunnels and roads that are in poor shape. There's a benefit of creating lots of jobs, and get us back on the road to recovery."
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, called for its approval.
"These jobs proposals should not be politically controversial," O'Malley said in a news release. "In fact, many are based on things that we know are already working in our states. The more Congress delays, the more people will remain without jobs and the greater risk we run of another economic downturn."
It is the partisan predicament that is at the root of the weak economy, Basu said, adding that unless Congress takes immediate action, there is no guarantee this bill will reach the citizens it was intended to help, including Marylanders.
"It's not clear that it will affect Maryland at all, because one cannot presume that anything will pass," Basu said. "The question is how much of this plan will actually find its way through Congress and be implemented—and that is very much an unknown. Already this morning we are observing some stances among politicians very much opposed to what has been offered."
If it passes intact, Basu said the plan could be more effective than the February 2009 economic stimulus package. The problem, he said, is getting Congress to reach an agreement.
This year's Congress has seen a series of struggles. It took six months of gridlock earlier this year for the two chambers to strike a bargain with Obama to reduce the nation's $14.3 trillion debt. And most recently, House Speaker John Boehner forced the president to reschedule his jobs speech from Wednesday to Thursday because it conflicted with a Republican debate.
"Congress has shown an ability to really mess things up, and I think the most likely scenario is that Congress will continue to mess things up," Basu said. "And in the context of the proposed stimulus package, that means even parts of the plan that are broadly attractive will not be implemented—I think that's a big likelihood."
Obama pushed Congress to pass the bill straightaway, and Democrats like Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, agreed that the situation is urgent.
"The American people can't wait 14 months," Edwards said. "We need to rebuild jobs now, and I think there should be a bipartisan commitment to that."
But Harris said he does not think it will fly through the House.
"I think the American people expect much more from this Congress," he said.
Because the bill was crafted using input from both parties, several Maryland representatives said Republicans have no excuse for opposing it.
"He laid out a political set of next steps, and it's incumbent on Congress to execute that and execute it quickly," Sarbanes said. "The Democrats will be eager to do it, and hopefully we can get the GOP to participate as well."