The GOP jobs pitch (and why it’s wrong)

THE GOP JOBS PITCH (AND WHY IT’S WRONG)…. Sensitive to economic realities and public opinion, Democrats and their allies are largely obsessed with the issue of job creation. Every issue, speech, and priority is filtered through a specific lens — here’s what Dem priorities have to do with jobs.

Republicans and the right are obviously on a very different page. Reader W.J. emailed this morning to note that NewsMax ran an online poll today, asking readers what Congress’ top priority should be in 2011 — creating jobs and economic growth didn’t even make the list of options.

But Slate‘s John Dickerson had a good piece late yesterday, noting that as far as the GOP is concerned, their top economic priorities — taking money out of the economy, ending public investments, putting more public-sector workers out of work — are about jobs.

The two parties are making opposite bets about what the public really thinks about the deficit. The president is betting that people don’t see an iron connection between reducing the deficit and increasing the number of jobs. When they judge who is doing more for them — the GOP or the president — they will pick the person optimistic about the future, not the guys preaching pain.

Republicans get this, so they’re working hard to reiterate that their deficit agenda is a jobs agenda: Jobs will be lost if the deficit isn’t reduced drastically. They’ve produced 222 economists who make this case. They’ll have to do better than that, because the White House can bus in their own fleet of economists.

Short and sharp is what is needed to rebut Captain Win the Future. So far, the message needs some work: “By running up the spending money we don’t have, running up the huge budget deficits, we create more uncertainty in the private sector,” says House Speaker John Boehner, who then becomes almost tautological. “This is where cutting spending will create jobs because it is going to bring greater fiscal responsibility in Washington, D.C., end some of the uncertainty, and allow jobs to be created in America.”

In some ways, it’s at least mildly reassuring that Republicans haven’t given up on reducing unemployment altogether, at least from their limited ideological perspective. There is an argument lurking behind their rhetoric — large deficits will raise interest rates, lead to higher inflation, and cause economic pain at some point. Drastic austerity now will prevent even-more-drastic austerity later.

At least, that’s the pitch. There are some fairly dramatic flaws in the argument. First, when the unemployment rate is as high as it is, and interest rates are already extremely low, Republicans are ignoring one problem that does exist, focusing on a separate problem that doesn’t exist. Besides, the “uncertainty” canard has been debunked repeatedly — businesses will hire more when they have more customers.

Second, I’d be far more inclined to take Republican fears about the deficit seriously if they weren’t constantly taking steps to make the deficit worse. It was the GOP that demanded massive tax breaks late last year, and didn’t even try to pay for them. It was also the GOP that made health care repeal its top priority, despite the fact that repeal would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit.

Third, if Republicans seriously considered the deficit/debt a scourge that would destroy civilization as we know it, they’d (a) actually work in good faith with Democrats on ideas that could pass; and (b) stop working so hard on tangential, culture-war issues like abortion, school vouchers, and D.C. marriage rights.

Finally — and this is the kicker — the best way to reduce the deficit in a hurry is to create jobs and grow the economy.

I’m glad there’s an actual thought pattern to the Republican economic agenda. I’d be even more pleased if it made sense.