President Obama and a trio of House Republicans are visiting Silicon Valley today to highlight their competing proposals for boosting the U.S. economy.
Advisers had promised that Obama's town-hall style event organized by LinkedIn would address questions about jobs, the economy, and "how to move the country forward." It turns out Obama's answers amounted to a single recommendation: pass his proposed legislation known as the American Jobs Act (PDF), which includes a mix of additional government spending, temporary tax breaks, and permanent additional taxes that would take effect 16 months from now.
For their part, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and budget committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are appearing at Facebook at 3 p.m. PT to tout their own proposals outlined in a new book titled "Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders." They write that, "under the current leadership in Washington, the voices and opinions of Americans all over the country have been ignored."
The event's timing is no coincidence: Republicans are hoping to woo Silicon Valley's often libertarian-leaning leaders, many of whom supported George W. Bush in 2000 but backed Obama eight years later. Obama has made frequent visits to the area for fundraising, including one to the Woodside home of Symantec Chairman John Thompson yesterday afternoon, followed by a $35,800-per-person dinner at the Atherton home of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
"Passing the American Jobs Act is going to be important," Obama told an unemployed IT analyst during this morning's morning event held in Mountain View, Calif., at the Computer History Museum. One of its sections, he said, assures that you can't be discriminated against by employers just because you don't currently have a job.
That, repeated again and again, was this morning's message. When a man from Charlotte, N.C., asked about the economy, Obama replied: "Part of our Jobs Act is to maintain unemployment insurance."
Earlier, Obama said it would help veterans who are leaving the U.S. military. "The American Jobs Act would also be helpful because it provides additional tax incentives for companies to hire our veterans," he said.
In early September, the White House unveiled $447 billion worth of spending and tax initiatives, which quickly encountered opposition from congressional Republicans. The legislation would create millions of jobs, the administration claims.
The president's jobs bill does include $240 billion in temporary tax breaks, but $467 billion in permanent tax hikes that would take effect in 16 months, including limiting income tax deductions to couples that make more than $125,000 each.
Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn's chief executive, was no less enthusiastic about the jobs plan, and also used the event to pitch his company as a way to lower the nation's unemployment rate. "We have everything we need to put this country back to work...with the American Jobs Act, our president is leading the way."
Weiner was an early supporter of Obama and donated to his campaign in January 2008, according to government records.
The questions came from audience members, some of whom had been chosen in advance by Weiner and some of whom the president selected.
One of those came from Doug Edwards, an early marketing director at Google and author of a book about the company, who simply said he had been successful enough to retire after working for a "startup" down the street.
"My question is: Would you please raise my taxes?" Edwards asked, to some applause from the audience. "I'd like very much to have a country that continues to invest in things like Pell grants, infrastructure, and job training programs that made it possible for me to get to where I am." (Edwards did not, however, ask Obama for an asset tax--after all, if you already have a significant sum of money in the bank, an income tax won't affect you very much.)
Obama asked: "What was that startup?"
Edwards replied, to some laughter: "It's a search engine."
It wasn't a sentiment shared by another ex-Googler, Katie Stanton, who was sitting next to Edwards.
Stanton, who's now at Twitter, posted on Google+ afterward: "Wish I had been wearing a t-shirt that said, 'Speak for yourself'. :)"
Even though the event was held in the heart of Silicon Valley, Obama didn't talk about technology. He did say, at the beginning, that "no part of the country, I think, better represents the essence of America than here," and suggested that the "entrepreneurship and dynamism" will help jump-start the country's economy.
Discussions at the Facebook event were, by contrast, much more focused on technology.
The U.S. government has "got to adjust to this world of social media," Cantor said, adding that it offers "a much greater involvement of people in their government."
Entrepreneurs like the ones running Facebook, he said, "can allocate capital and create value a lot better than Washington can," so it makes sense to keep the money in the private sector rather than send it to D.C. in the form of higher taxes.
Ryan said that entitlement reform -- Social Security and Medicare -- should be a national priority. "Our government, both parties, has made promises to the American people that it can't keep."
Republican leaders have criticized Obama's legislative proposal. "Unfortunately, the president has made a decision that he is going to go into full campaign mode now, 14 months before the election, and that is his decision," Cantor said last week. "What he is going to find when he goes traveling out to Republican districts across the country is that people don't want their taxes raised. And every time he goes to identify a bridge or another project that is yet not funded and is in disrepair, he is going to remind people that it was his stimulus that was unable to deliver the needed funds to address those projects."
In addition to today's events, Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is convening a privacy roundtable at Santa Clara University Law School on Wednesday.
Last updated 7:40 a.m. PT Tuesday