The perils of pivoting to jobs

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

Though it sounded like spin to keep liberals quiet at the time, there was a lot of talk prior to this deficit deal that once it was passed, the administration and Democrats on the Hill would shift towards job creation efforts and a jobs narrative.

To the extent that Politico’s Mike Allen is a leading indicator that political insiders use to preview political work, it seems that the pivot to jobs is actually happening. Today’s Politico Playbook has an in-depth look at how the administration and congressional Democrats plan to switch the conversation to job creation and getting the economy back on track.

Before anything else, I think it’s important to say that I absolutely support the pursuit of job creation legislation. Lots of liberals who write online and lots of left-leaning institutions – from labor to MoveOn and other campaigning organizations – have been pleading for months for there to be a focus on job creation. A stronger economy built through the creation of good-quality, well-paying jobs is the cure for what ails America. It will reduce the suffering working and middle class Americans are going through now. It will keep more people in their homes. And a stronger economy driven by higher employment would dramatically increase tax receipts, reduce the deficit and at least from a purely economic standpoint, reduce the likelihood for social programs to be on the chopping block.

I just worry that there’s either (a) a lack of recognition of what just happened in the deficit debate and how the “deal” will impact all other legislation that requires money to work, and (b) a continued assumption that Republicans will be reasonable and good faith negotiators. To wit:

A Senate Democratic official tells Playbook: “There is nothing stimulative or jobs-based in this final deal that got struck. That’s unfortunate, but it also gives us an opening in September that we can say, ‘We’ve met you halfway and passed a huge, historic debt-reduction measure. Now it’s time to do something for jobs. The administration has been saying for weeks, ‘Once we get off this debt-ceiling thing, we’ll be able to get back to jobs.’ In the last 24 to 48 hours, one of their selling points of this deal has been that it resolves this thing so we can get back to jobs.

Dems, hoping to actually pass something, plan to emphasize tax cuts, and spending measures that have been embraced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, giving them cross-party appeal. [Emphasis added]

Four of the seven measures Allen previews are tax cuts. If I had to put money down, I’d predict that if any jobs bill moves forward, it will consist of more than 50% tax cuts, and probably more likely, a four or five to one ratio of tax cuts to stimulative spending measures.

Two thoughts here.

First, the language from Democrats sounds disturbingly like the mindset of December 2010, where after the deal extending the Bush tax cuts it was taken on faith that the GOP would behave like grownups on the debt ceiling and not play games.   Regardless of why that analysis coming from the White House was wrong, it was devastatingly wrong.  Even if you never paid attention to how the modern Republican Party behaves prior to the last eight months, there’s zero reason any person who has followed recent events should think that the Republican Party is interested in anything close to responsible governance.

There will be no GOP concessions to reciprocate for what Democrats have given during the deficit deal negotiations. Expectations to the contrary should be rejected on their face, and anyone who posits them is at best stupid and at worst lying.

Second, the fight we just had was not about the debt ceiling. It was about the deficit, and everyone (well, other than the top 2%) is going to have to swallow some pretty bitter pills as a result.   I simply don’t know how the GOP is going to let through any new government spending to create jobs without at least equal cuts elsewhere.  Conservatives – and clearly we must count President Obama as one of them – have created a zero-sum game when it comes to the federal budget. The sole caveat here is that because conservatives don’t actually care about the deficit, I can easily see a scenario where tax cuts will be allowed without comparable spending cuts elsewhere. But that still puts Democrats in a position of adopting failed Republican policy solutions to try to fix the economy, while simultaneously stipulating that liberal ideas are not a viable solution to our weak economy and our high unemployment.

To put it differently, by operating in such a framework, the Democratic Party is actively destroying liberalism as a valid set of ideas to be considered by the American public.

I would love to be wrong, but right now I’m not optimistic about how the next few months will play out – whether it’s the supposed pivot to job creation, the budget fight, or the highway bill reauthorization (which includes the gas tax), there are ample opportunities for conservatives to grind things to a halt with deficit hysteria.

The GOP just learned that President Obama is an enthusiastic partner in this hysteria, and the Democrats on the Hill are equally willing to go along with “deficit panic.” This doesn’t mean that Democrats should not try to pass a stimulative jobs bill – given the anti-stimulative effect of the deficit deal it’s needed now more than ever. But the chances of a good bill, that doesn’t come at the continued cost of reducing other important social support programs, seem low, and will only be made lower if Democrats continue to expect conservatives to come to the table as good faith partners in job creation.

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