Duncan Makes Hard, Partisan Sell for American Jobs Act

By Sean Cavanagh — October 17, 2011 3 min read
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President Obama has vowed that he won’t give up on promoting his jobs bill, despite a recent Senate defeat for the $447 billion package. By the looks of it, neither will U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Duncan recently proved a willing soldier in the administration’s efforts to sell the proposal, which may dead inside the Beltway, but which the White House seems intent on making a defining issue in the 2012 re-election campaign.

While Duncan has won bipartisan praise for his work, he did not shy away from bashing GOP lawmakers, in a speech last week before an Oregon business group, for what he sees as shortsighted education and economic policy in opposing the jobs bill.

Duncan argued that Republican opposition to the jobs bill will hurt the country’s long-term economic competitiveness—and put the United States at odds with nations that are outperforming American students on international tests.

The title of the speech summed up the message: “A Tale of Two Theories of Education and Economic Growth,” as described by the Department of Education.

"[T]his idea, that today education and economic growth are tightly linked, stems from the recognition that the job market has changed profoundly,” Duncan said in the Oct. 12 speech, according to a transcript. “In a knowledge-based global economy, countries that out-educate us will out-compete us. ... If you think education is expensive in the 21st century, try ignorance. It won’t take you far in the information age.”

While the president sees investment in education as vital to promoting economic growth and the workforce, Republicans are too eager to cut government spending, at any cost, Duncan argued.

“An alternative theory of education and economic growth is taking hold in some quarters of Congress,” Duncan said. “The proponents of this theory have a self-described, three-word prescription for job creation and economic growth: Cut, cut, cut.”

“Cut government spending, cut regulation—and cut taxes, not just for small businesses and middle-class Americans, but for corporations and the affluent too.”

Congressional Republicans argue that Obama’s jobs bill is a continuation of earlier government-spending proposals that haven’t created enough jobs. And they oppose his idea to pay for the package by raising taxes on the rich, saying it will undermine a fragile economy.

“Democrats’ sole proposal is to keep doing what hasn’t worked—along with a massive tax hike that we know won’t create jobs,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said recently.

In his speech, Duncan, while pointing out that he’s “not an economist or a business leader,” nonetheless waded into Econ 101 territory, saying that “the cut-cut-cut theory of education and job growth seems to defy common sense and economic history.”

Film buff, baseball fan, or possibly both, the secretary went on to say that, “This theory of job creation is the 2011 Field of Dreams—if you cut spending and regulation, the job creators will come.”

South Korea, a nation that regularly beats the United States on international exams, is hiring thousands of teachers of English, even recruiting them from abroad, noted Duncan. He contrasted that policy with the cuts to thousands of teaching jobs in the United States, and the likelihood of more in the time ahead.

“They are out-educating us, out-competing us—and they can’t hire teachers fast enough,” Duncan said, “In America, we’re letting go teachers en masse. Something is radically wrong with that picture.”

On his west coast swing, Duncan was scheduled to appear at a California fundraiser for Obama, Politico reported. Following his apperance in Oregon, Duncan made another stop to promote the president’s jobs bill, in Richmond, Va., a likely campaign battleground state. He focused on another piece of the jobs plan—the proposed investment in renovating dilapidated schools.

In the president’s proposal, job creation is meant to result in school-jobs creation. So it seems likely that Duncan could keeping up his sales work on behalf of Obama’s plan in the months ahead.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.