WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will let his jobs council expire this week without renewing its charter, winding down one source of input from the business community even as unemployment remains stubbornly high.
When Obama in January 2011 formed his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, unemployment was hovering above 9 percent. Two years later, more than 12 million people in the U.S. are out of work. The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.8 percent, but both parties agree that's still too high.
A provision in Obama's executive order establishing the council says it sunsets on Thursday. A White House official said the president does not plan to extend it.
Officials said the president always intended for the council to fulfill its mission and then wind down, and said Obama would continue to actively engage and seek input from business leaders about ways to accelerate job-creation and economic growth. Among the steps Obama plans to pursue are expedited permits for infrastructure projects, plus programs to boost entrepreneurship and workforce development.
Even before it was clear whether Obama would renew the jobs council, Republicans seized on its likely expiration as evidence the president has devoted insufficient attention to creating jobs, which polling shows remains a top priority for Americans. The Republican National Committee dubbed it part of "the failed Obama record," while the House Republicans' campaign committee, in an online petition, accused Obama of laying off his own jobs council.
Adding to the concern about the job market's continued vulnerability, the Commerce Department said Wednesday that the U.S. economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.1 percent from October through December of last year, the first quarterly drop since 2009. The Federal Reserve said the economy appears to have "paused in recent months."
The jobs council was a successor to another economic advisory board Obama created at the onset of his presidency. The panel was chaired by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and was composed of prominent business leaders and economists. Immelt said Thursday that progress has been made on implementing 90 percent of the council's recommendations.
"While each member of the jobs council provided a different perspective, we were unified by a shared dedication to accelerating job creation and economic growth in this country," Immelt said in a statement released by the White House.
Obama met with the council only a handful of times. During the last meeting, in February 2012, the president and the council highlighted an engineering education initiative alongside school deans.
"The president treated his jobs council as more of a nuisance than a vehicle to spur job creation," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, arguing that the council's expiration exposed Obama's disinterest in learning from job-creators.
The jobs council's main work product was report released in January 2012, titled "Roadmap to Renewal." The council also organized a series of "listening and action" meetings across the country last year with business owners, local elected officials and academics, although Obama didn't attend those sessions.
Critics have argued that the council's primary purpose was to create the appearance of action at a time when the nation was pining for something — anything — to rein in soaring joblessness. The administration acted on many of the council's recommendations, including suggestions to streamline permitting and small business loans, increase tourist visas and boost energy efficiency.
But the White House was at odds with several council members on tax policies, particularly a proposal to exclude overseas corporate earnings from U.S. taxes. That idea divided even the jobs council, whose membership included labor and Obama's political allies.
The council's dissolution also comes as White House aides are optimistic about the prospects for a second-term detente with the business community, which bristled during Obama's first term at his harsh depiction of "fat-cat bankers" and his efforts to impose regulations, tax policies and spending initiatives they argued were unfriendly to business. Obama aides hope the softening of the relationship between the president and the business world can benefit the White House in future fiscal debates with Republicans.
White House officials said the president made a fresh effort to reach out to business in the days following his re-election. Between the November election and the end of 2012, in the height of negotiations to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, more than 400 business leaders, ranging from CEOs of large multinational companies to small business owners, met with Obama or his aides at the White House, officials said.