One idea that has been percolating as a stimulus program is a nationwide school rehab and renovation program, explained here
by Laura Clawson. Fix America's Schools Today (FAST) was "put together by Mary Filardo of the 21st Century School Fund, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, FAST (PDF) points to the maintenance and repair needs of our aging school buildings, which are on average 40 years old, and how that dovetails with job creation."
The idea apparently now has a powerful proponent in the White House:
The jobs package that President Obama plans to unveil shortly after Labor Day could include tens of billions of dollars to renovate thousands of dilapidated public schools and a tax break to encourage businesses to hire new workers, according to people familiar with White House deliberations.
As aides work to put together the proposal, they are also hammering out a companion plan to reduce federal budget deficits over the next decade, which Obama would share with the 12-member congressional "super committee" charged with finding long-term fixes for the growing national debt.
The deficit reduction plan would rely on some of the ideas Obama worked on in private negotiations with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) this summer, aides said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a proposal that is still taking shape.
The two-phase plan would probably require Obama to argue for spending more money in the short term while reducing the federal deficit over a longer period. Many economists support that combination, saying cuts in spending should wait until the economy is stronger. But political strategists say it has been difficult to communicate that idea to voters.
Let's hope there's a lot more focus on the jobs part of this than the deficit cutting part. Jed Lewison wrote earlier about the basic problem here: "Sure, you could enact long-term deficit reduction at the same time as you pass a short-term jobs bill, but it's the jobs bill that will create jobs—not the deficit reduction package. And if you reduce the deficit too quickly, you'll actually weaken the impact of the jobs bill."
His conclusion that this is largely a political gambit strikes me as right, that the White House "is betting that getting a big deficit reduction package enacted will give him the political capital to force action on a serious jobs creation package." The thing is, he already has the political capital to bring that fight to Republicans, in the form of public opinion. Going big on job creation, and forcing the Republicans to fight him on the one thing that Americans prioritize most, just makes sense.
FAST could be a smart starting point, because as one of its originators, Jared Bernstein says, "It's the public school in your community, not a bunch of folks on a distant highway." But it should be just the start of an infrastructure rebuilding proposal from the White House. Now's the time to take the big fight to the Republicans.