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Week In News: Job Numbers, The President's Speech And EPA Regulations

LAURA SULLIVAN, host: We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.


CHRIS WALLACE: The big story this Labor Day weekend is how many Americans are still not working.

CHRISTINE ROMANS: Zero. We didn't create any jobs in August. We've seen economists lowering their expectations over the past day or two, and they were right.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is the first time a jobs number has come in at exactly zero since February of 1945.

SULLIVAN: That's just a taste of the rough news we got on the jobs front this week. For more on what's behind those numbers and the rest of the week's news, I'm joined by Doyle McManus, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times who's based here in Washington. Welcome to the show, Doyle.

DOYLE MCMANUS: Thank you, Laura.

SULLIVAN: So how much of a disappointment were these unemployment numbers?

MCMANUS: They were a big disappointment, zero. And that was sobering. And it was sobering for more than just that zero. Because if you want to look at one month's numbers, you can pick it apart and say, well, it was a little small because of this or a little bit small because of that. You know, in this case, weather and a strike at Verizon.

But the government also revised the numbers of job creation for June and July down by 60,000. And so what that meant was that all of those signs we thought we had seen over the last three months, the job creation might be picking up, they didn't mean a thing. They weren't there. Growth projections are now below 2 percent. Unemployment, it is now clear it's going to stay at about 9 percent for the next 18 months through the entire election year. It was just a very tough number across the board.

SULLIVAN: So the president is giving a speech on this very thing this week, but it wasn't easy for him to find a time slot to give the speech. And there was a lot of jockeying over when he was going to be able to do it. Was this just inside baseball bickering, or is this something bigger?

MCMANUS: Well, I think a little bit of both. When the White House asked for a time for the speech, they understandably chose an important night, the first night Congress will be back, and I think this was a secondary point, the night when there's going to be a major debate among the Republican presidential candidates out in California.

And so what happened was after initially not getting an objection from Speaker John Boehner, the speaker's office came back apparently a day later and said, well, actually, that night doesn't work. People will just be back. We won't have had time to do the joint resolution we need. We won't have had time to do the securities.

Well, it sounded a little bit like a collection of the-dog-ate-my-homework excuses, and it boiled down to the fact that Republicans didn't want to give him, in effect, the best night of the fall to give the speech. And so the president will have to give the speech the next night when he will have to make sure he gets finished before the first game of the National Football League season.

But one important thing about that speech, you know, all summer long, there has been this debate on the president's staff and among his supporters about whether he should go big in this speech and really ask for ambitious job creation proposals or go small, just restrict himself to things that he knows Congress might be willing to pass on a bipartisan basis. Well, you don't go up and ask for a joint session of Congress and speak for 45 minutes and tie up a full hour of national television time if you're going to go small. This is going to be a big speech.

SULLIVAN: Also this week, the president announced that he's rolling back EPA regulations on air pollution. This is clearly going to upset his liberal base, but will he gain any ground with the conservatives?

MCMANUS: You know, it's hard to see any circumstances under which Barack Obama gains ground with conservatives this year. But that decision on air pollution was important because you're going to see other regulations delayed, I'm sure, because all of those regulations are easy to attack as slowing down job creation and slowing down business because it's true.

That regulation, if enforced, probably would have blocked the building of some industrial facilities and the expansion of others that would have created more pollution. And it would have opened the EPA and the federal government to attack that they're not fully in the business of job creation.

So I think what we're going to see all year long is a series of trade-offs between short-term measures and the long-term measures. And what the Obama administration said in this case, and they'll say it in others, is, you know, over the long term, we still want to get pollution down, but the economy is in such a fragile state, we have to take some short-term measures to shore it up.

SULLIVAN: Doyle McManus is Washington columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Doyle, thanks so much.

MCMANUS: Thank you, Laura. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.