WASHINGTON -- A day after learning that the economy had contracted in the last quarter of 2012, the White House confirmed Thursday that its jobs council was closing up shop, prompting a fresh round of criticism from Republicans over President Obama’s stewardship of the still-struggling economy.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness would not be getting a renewal on its two-year charter, which expired Thursday.
The group made up largely of executives was established in January 2011 to solicit ideas and engage the business community in the effort to reverse the downward spiral of job growth. But the council never took a very prominent role in policy making and has not met in person for a year.
Carney said the White House was replacing the council with a “new, expanded effort” to work with business leaders directly on specific policy priorities, such as immigration or deficit reduction. He cited a conference call held this week with executives to discuss the president’s immigration blueprint as an example.
News of the council’s unceremonious end provided an opening for Republicans to renew their critiques of the president’s economic policies.
“To understand the abysmal nature of our economic recovery, look no further than the president’s disinterest in learning lessons from actual job creators,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “Whether ignoring the group or rejecting its recommendations, the president treated his jobs council as more of a nuisance than a vehicle to spur job creation.”
Carney defended the president by noting that he had taken action on some of the group’s recommendations, including an effort to streamline small business initiatives and increase energy efficiency projects.
“The work of the job council was very valuable. While the president didn't agree with all of its recommendations, he agreed with many of them and acted on a number of them,” Carney said. He said that Republicans had blocked the president’s efforts to create jobs by hiring new teachers, police and funding more constructions projects.
Among the council's critics were labor groups, who noted that the corporations represented on the council were among those who’d recently announced major layoffs. Just days before the president appointed Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman and chief executive of American Express Co., to the council, the company announced a restructuring that eliminated 550 jobs, or about 1% of the company's workforce. At the same time, American Express reported a profit of $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010, up 48% from the same period the previous year.
General Electric Co., whose CEO Jeffery Emmelt chaired the council, said in the last week that it would shut plants in Warren, Ohio, and Ravenna, Ohio, and also would close six turbine repair facilities in locations including Pittsburgh and Houston.
The day after the November election, Boeing Co.announced it was restructuring its defense division, cutting 30% of management jobs from 2010 levels and closing some facilities in California. The company has since announced plans to cut 40% of all jobs at plant in El Paso, Texas. Jim McNerney, president and CEO of Boeing, was also on the council.
“It’s the inglorious end of a tragic and wasted affair on jobs,” said Chris Townsend, political action director of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, which represents 3,500 General Electric workers.