Why Work? Doocy Presses Psaki on Unemployment Benefits Keeping People From Jobs

With Kristin Fisher having left to join the evil empire, Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy soldiered on during Monday’s briefing and found success in repeatedly questioning Press Secretary Jen Psaki over the fallout from Friday’s jobs report and whether increased unemployment benefits are keeping people from wanting to rejoin the labor force.

Doocy pointed to the fact that “employment only rose about 266,000 jobs in April out 7.4 million or so jobs openings” before asking whether the Biden administration knows “that people are just choosing not to apply for jobs because the extra unemployment benefits are so good.”

Psaki insisted Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and the rest of Team Biden had “looked at the data” and they insist things were going swimmingly with unemployment having nothing to do with the increased welfare state.

Instead, she blamed a lack of affordable childcare, “the need” for more employers to pay workers “a livable, working wage,” the number of vaccinations when the jobs numbers were put together, and yes, schools still being closed.

That would be stem from the preferences of the teachers unions, so if only that was a group the White House could have influence over and not the other way around.

Doocy came prepared for this kind of answer, so he shot back: “But Bank of America economists, who are cited in a Bloomberg story say, anybody making less than $32,000 a year is better off financially just taking unemployment so is the White House creating an incentive just to stay home?”

Psaki hit back that it’s not the belief of “the majority of economists, internally and externally of the White House” and instead defending the increased payouts due to the “very difficult economic downturn.”

Before moving on, Doocy brought up another factor cited by the Commerce secretary (click “expand”):

DOOCY: And the, just last one really quick, the commerce secretary says the main reason that people are staying home is fear. How does the White House know people are scared, what is that based on? 

PSAKI: Well, what I think she was referring to is the fact there were — there was a much lower vaccination rate just a month ago and that people are fearful about getting sick, they are fearful about whether they will have the conditions to be healthy, whether they can send their kids to a childcare center, whether there is a childcare center, so those are all factors that are consistent with the examples and reasons I just provided.

Before this exchange, Doocy inquired about the latest Swampy move to allow union officials to serve in the White House in the form of ethics waivers.

Psaki maintained that Biden adopted “the most stringent ethics code ever adopted by any White House” though allowing two officials to join the administration represented a “narrow” case that was “in the public’s interest….of getting work done for the American people.”

Elsewhere in the shortened Q&A with Psaki, Bloomberg’s Josh Wingrove and CNN’s Phil Mattingly asked about compromising with Republicans on the so-called infrastructure package and concerns about inflation (click “expand”):

MATTINGLY: On infrastructure, the President spent the last 10 days making very clear his view on the merits of the corporate tax increase. And the White House has rejected user fees as paid for — Bless you, Chris. Republicans have made clear the 2017 tax law is a non-starter and are proposing user fees to pay for it. I don’t understand what the deal space is here when they’re paid fors are considered non-starters by you guys, and your paid fors are considered non-starters by theirs.

(….)

MATTINGLY: I just have one more quick one. I understand where you guys and the Fed are that inflation right now is transitory if it flops to the degree that it does. John’s report kind of was a reminder that we don’t necessarily have a roadmap for coming out of a once in a century pandemic economically. Are you guys concerned about what would happen if you were wrong and it’s not transitory, and this ends up being an actual real problem in the weeks or months ahead when it comes to inflation?

(….)

WINGROVE: You mentioned you’re monitoring inflation and that, with the jobs report, you expected sort of, you know, lump reports from month-to-month. Do you expect the same thing with the inflation report? Is the White House bracing for kind of an eye-popping, topline number given the base effects it’ll be going off or are you not sort of cautioning that? Are you worried people will react to the one number that will come out on Wednesday?

To see the relevant transcript from May 10’s briefing, click “expand.”

White House Press Briefing
May 10, 2021
1:01 p.m. Eastern

PHIL MATTINGLY: On infrastructure, the President spent the last 10 days making very clear his view on the merits of the corporate tax increase. And the White House has rejected user fees as paid for… Bless you, Chris. Republicans have made clear the 2017 tax law is a non-starter and are proposing user fees to pay for it. I don’t understand what the deal space is here when they’re paid fors are considered non-starters by you guys, and your paid fors are considered non-starters by theirs.

JEN PSAKI: Well, this is a big week ahead, Phil. So big week for someone who covered Capitol Hill and is now covering the White House. Look, I think the President’s red lines — look, I think the President’s red lines are inaction and are anything that would raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year. Those are not areas where he is going to move. He is quite open, as is evidenced by the fact that he invited Senator Capito and a group of members to meet with him in the White House later this week. He’s very open to having a discussion about where we can find agreement, where we can move forward. And he has been encouraged by the spirit in which Senator Capito and other Republican colleagues are engaging with him. And he’s hopeful that the meeting will be constructive. Now you’re right in what you touched on, which is an interesting piece of this, is that the disagreement is really about the pay force. There is agreement about the need to modernize our infrastructure, about the need to do more to create jobs in the economy. And he’s looking forward to hearing what additional ideas they may have.

MATTINGLY: I just have one more quick one. I understand where you guys and the Fed are that inflation right now is transitory if it flops to the degree that it does. John’s report kind of was a reminder that we don’t necessarily have a roadmap for coming out of a once in a century pandemic economically. Are you guys concerned about what would happen if you were wrong and it’s not transitory, and this ends up being an actual real problem in the weeks or months ahead when it comes to inflation?

PSAKI: Well let me first say that our economic team watches this incredibly closely, including our secretary of treasury who has an expansive background in watching inflation and so we have confidence in both their assessments to date and also the fact that they will watch this as we continue to assess the state of our economy. I will say, and the President will talk about this shortly I should say, later this afternoon, that his view is that we’ve always believed that there would be ups and downs in our jobs reports. That is historically how it has gone, that there are a number of factors that contribute to it being a challenge for people to hire and people to rejoin the workforce. And there are steps we can take, and this is what he will talk about in his remarks, as a government. We’ve obviously taken a number of those steps, including passing the American Rescue Plan, but there are a number of barriers to work. The biggest barriers we’ve seen, affordability of childcare, schools reopening, vaccinations is actually a huge factor. So when you dig into this data, which obviously we’ve done over the last couple of days, one interesting thing that struck the President as interesting is that the week of April 12th, which is the week that the data was compiled for the April jobs report was collected, at that point only 18 percent of 18 to 64 year olds were fully vaccinated. And as of May 9th, it’s arisen to 34 percent and the seven day moving average of positive COVID cases was 40 percent higher in mid April then May 8th last week when the data was compiled for next month. So all I’m conveying is there a range of factors, he’ll talk about announcements on state and local funding, how that will be distributed, which will help keep police, firefighters and others on the job. He’ll talk about delivering assistance to restaurants, which is where we see major opportunity for employment, rehiring. He’ll talk about providing guidance to childcare centers, which will help ensure that that funding gets out the door to cover child costs. He’ll talk about the Employee Retention Tax Credit, which will hopefully help small and medium-sized businesses. But he also believes that there are steps businesses need to take, which we’ll also talk about. Employers can get people vaccinated. They can pay people a decent wage. These larger companies have received $1.4 trillion in money, they can do a better job of paying a decent wage to bring people back into the workforce. And so there’s a lot of steps of different entities can take, and that’s where he’ll discuss this afternoon and where he thinks the focus should be.

PETER DOOCY: First on ethics waivers, the White House apparently had ethics restrictions that were preventing officials who work here from communicating with the unions they worked at previously and they waived for somebody at OMB and somebody at the Made in America office and I’m curious why that happened. 

PSAKI: Well, first, since you gave me the opportunity, I will reiterate that this administration has — the President signed an executive order requiring all appointees across the federal government to sign the most stringent ethics code ever adopted by any White House. So, as you refer to, in the narrow circumstances when necessary and in the public’s interest, the order authorizes agencies to grant limited waivers and consultation with White House counsel’s office, including in the cases you’re citing. The President, of course, has stood strong for unions throughout his career and he’s proud to have leading labor voices in the White House. And there are circumstances — very, very limited — where it is in interests of governing, in the interest of getting work done for the American people to issue these waivers. 

DOOCY: And then on the economy, so — employment only rose about 266,000 jobs in April out 7.4 million or so jobs openings. How does the White House know that people are just choosing not to apply for jobs because the extra unemployment benefits are so good? 

PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that we have looked at the data and Secretary Yellen referred to this on Friday — or talked about this on Friday. We don’t see much evidence that the extra unemployment insurance is a major driver in people rejoining the workforce. We actually see the data and our analysis shows that lack of vaccinations, the lower rate, which is why I refer to the data in the week that it was taken, it has an impact. Childcare has an impact. Schools reopening has an impact. But there is also the need to pay a livable, working wage and that’s one of the reasons the President will talk about that this afternoon. 

DOOCY: But as Bank of America economists, who are cited in a Bloomberg story say, anybody making less than $32,000 a year is better off financially just taking unemployment so is the White House creating an incentive just to stay home? 

PSAKI: Well, again, the majority of economists, internally and externally of the White House, don’t feel that unemployment insurance, something that was done at a time where — to help unemployed people through a very difficult economic downturn, during a pandemic is a drive — is a major driver in our unemployment data, that there are other factors — bigger factors that were contributing — have been contributing to the numbers we saw on Friday . That’s what we’re working to address and that’s where we think our solution should be focused.

DOOCY: And the, just last one really quick, the commerce secretary says the main reason that people are staying home is fear. How does the White House know people are scared, what is that based on? 

PSAKI: Well, what I think she was referring to is the fact there were — there was a much lower vaccination rate just a month ago and that people are fearful about getting sick, they are fearful about whether they will have the conditions to be healthy, whether they can send their kids to a childcare center, whether there is a childcare center, so those are all factors that are consistent with the examples and reasons I just provided. Go ahead, Josh.

JOSH WINGROVE: You mentioned you’re monitoring inflation and that, with the jobs report, you expected sort of, you know, lump reports from month-to-month. Do you expect the same thing with the inflation report? Is the White House bracing for kind of an eye-popping, topline number given the base effects it’ll be going off or are you not sort of cautioning that? Are you worried people will react to the one number that will come out on Wednesday? 

PSAKI: Well, obviously our analysis is going to be done by our economic expects. They continue to convey that they believe the impact will be temporary, transitory, however you want to refer to it but they’re looking at closely I don’t have any projections on that to make from here today.

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