Milbank goes there

MILBANK GOES THERE…. It looks like much of the Beltway press was underwhelmed by House Speaker John Boehner’s “so be it” problem, but to his credit, the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank appreciated the seriousness of this in a terrific column.

To briefly review, Boehner was asked yesterday about expected job losses as a result of Republican budget cuts. “In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs,” he said. “If some of those jobs are lost, so be it.”

Asked exactly how many thousands of Americans would be left unemployed as a result of GOP cuts, Boehner said he didn’t know (and apparently, doesn’t care). So, Milbank looked into it.

I checked with budget expert Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress, and, using the usual multipliers, he calculated that the cuts — a net of $59 billion in the last half of fiscal 2011 — would lead to the loss of 650,000 government jobs, and the indirect loss of 325,000 more jobs as fewer government workers travel and buy things. That’s nearly 1 million jobs — possibly enough to tip the economy back into recession.

So be it?

Let’s assume that Boehner is not as heartless as his words sound. Let’s accept that he really believes, as he put it, that “if we reduce spending we’ll create a better environment for job creation in America.” A more balanced budget would indeed improve the jobs market — in the long run.

But in the short run, the cuts Boehner and his caucus propose would cause a shock to the economy that would slow, if not reverse, the recovery. And however pure Boehner’s motives may be, the dirty truth is that a stall in the recovery would bring political benefits to the Republicans in the 2012 elections. It is in their political interests for unemployment to remain higher for the next two years. “So be it” is callous but rational.

This is pretty provocative stuff for a member of the D.C. establishment in good standing. Of course, given that the Speaker of the House, by his own admission, has announced his support for a budget plan that would make unemployment worse, on purpose, I’m not sure why more of Milbank’s colleagues aren’t taking this more seriously.

What’s more, PolitiFact looked into Boehner’s claim about 200,000 new federal jobs and found that the Speaker’s claim just isn’t true. This is important — Boehner wants to force hundreds of thousands of Americans from their jobs, deliberately, and he’s basing this decision in part on a statistic that he’s simply made up.

How’d this guy even get to be Speaker in the first place? What kind of national leader looks at a 9% unemployment rate and presents a plan to knowingly make it worse?

I realize Boehner has a response. In his mind, those hundreds of thousands of workers who’d be laid off would, in time, get jobs in the private sector. The argument is exceedingly weak on policy grounds, but it’s even worse as a rhetorical pitch: “Let’s make unemployment worse on purpose, and maybe someday, these jobless Americans will find new jobs somewhere else.”

Let’s take that debate to the public, and see if voters buy it.

In general, the establishment media isn’t pouncing on this — some are strangely insisting it’s not worth the attention — but Chris Matthews mentioned it yesterday, and Rachel Maddow used this to make a larger case that John Boehner just isn’t good at his job. I’m inclined to agree.