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In an exclusive discussion with The National Memo this week, former Chief Economist and Economic Advisor to the Vice President Jared Bernstein (who sat in on all high-level economic talks at the White House from 2009 to 2010) defended President Barack Obama’s progressive bona fides.

When asked whether the administration might have done more to corral the votes for “card check,” officially the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill to remove barriers to organizing that died in the Senate in 2009, Bernstein — who was widely considered the strongest voice for workers on the economic team — said no, and praised Obama for his support of labor.

“He was far more outspoken in favor of unions than any president since FDR,” he said. “The president has a very forward-looking investment agenda.”

Bernstein also argued that not much more could have been done to stimulate the economy in 2009, despite handwringing from the left since that a crisis was wasted.

“Could the stimulus have been larger, should it have been? Sure! But how much larger? I don’t think we could have effectively implemented a stimulus that was considerably larger than the one we got. When you’re talking about an $800 billion program over a couple of years, which from our perspective had to be implemented with transparency, accountability, and speed, when you’re talking about an infrastructure component that was looking for shovel-ready programs that were actually pretty scarce, I think we got what the market could bear,” he said of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Obama administration’s initial attempts to jumpstart the flailing economy.

“I think the implication is that the federal government could have largely offset the deepest recession since the Great Depression and that’s just wrong,” he said. “There’s no Keynesian stimulus that could have filled that hole; it’s just too deep, the leveraging too protracted.”

As far as what could be done right now to create jobs, Bernstein said another round of stimulus was necessary — even though the Republican-controlled Congress has no intention of letting a bill go through. Last year’s unemployment compensation expansion and payroll tax cut could be extended, and the federal government could step in with aid to states in order to prevent layoffs of public employees, who are losing their jobs in record numbers.

“The economy is crying out for fiscal stimulus; it’s just the only game in town right now. There’s nothing to preclude us to plot a path to a sustainable budget; but in the very short term we need to do more on the jobs side while the private sector remains stuck in neutral at best.”

Follow National Correspondent Matt Taylor on Twitter: @matthewt_ny


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