By Justin Sink
The Obama administration will discontinue its jobs council despite persistent unemployment and news this week that the economy shrunk.
The council, created in 2011, has met in full only four times in its two-year existence and was up for re-authorization this week. The administration says it will instead find different ways to encourage job growth, opting to close down a program that had become the target of Republican criticism.
An administration aide told The Hill last week the council of top economists and business leaders "was only intended" to last through its original two-year term.
The White House said Thursday the administration would launch "a new, expanded effort to work with the business community and other outside groups to advance specific policy priorities promoted by the Jobs Council," and that such efforts would include promoting small businesses and infrastructure improvements.
"The president, his economic team and his senior advisers will broaden the number of voices involved in the new effort to include not just members of the jobs council but also other leaders in the business community, academic and economic experts, and labor and nonprofit leaders," the official added.
The administration also said that senior officials were in regular contact with outside business leaders while developing strategy for immigration and deficit deals. On Wednesday, senior administration officials held a call with more than a dozen business leaders. The president also plans meetings with outside groups next week.
The decision to shutter the jobs council drew fire from GOP lawmakers, who have long used the group's infrequent meetings to suggest that President Obama was not paying sufficient attention to the nation's unemployment problem.
“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 Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in a statement. “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.”
“Over the past four years, President Obama has seemed far more interested in political show votes and tax gimmicks than actually focusing on what Americans need: more jobs,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “In fact, for more than a year, he was too focused on politics to regularly meet with or adopt the advice of the very Jobs Council he created amidst so much fanfare.
“With the economy shrinking and millions of Americans still out of work, there are few clearer signs of this neglect than the fact that the Jobs Council is now defunct after having met only a few times since 2011,” McConnell added.
White House press secretary Jay Carney defended the group's infrequent meetings at a press briefing last summer.
“There’s no specific reason, except the president has obviously got a lot on his plate. But he continues to solicit and receive advice from numerous folks outside the administration about the economy, about ideas that he can act on with Congress or administratively to help the economy grow and help create jobs,” Carney said.
The president himself praised the group as "a work council," contrasting it to "a show council" that did not produce substantive policy recommendations. Obama also noted the White House had taken up 33 of 35 executive actions recommended by the group.
Unemployment has dropped to 7.8 percent from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, but more than 12 million Americans remain unemployed. Moreover, the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) shrunk 0.1 percent last quarter according to initial government estimates, the first time since the depths of the recession in mid-2009.
On Wednesday, Carney defended the pace of the economic recovery, saying the GDP reduction was attributable to temporary concerns over the "fiscal cliff" and possible sequestration.
"There remain, even within this report, indications, whether it’s housing or consumer spending or business investment, that we continue to be poised for positive economic growth and job creation," Carney said. "And we need to make sure that in Washington, we are not taking actions that undercut that progress that we have been making and can continue to make and will continue to make. We need to take steps that encourage it and foster it and help it along."
This story was last updated at 12:29 p.m.