Struggling with the basics

I’ve long considered Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) one of the more special members of Congress, ever since he argued in a committee hearing that it would be wrong to reduce carbon emissions because the pollution is “plant food.” Shimkus rhetorically asked his colleagues, “[I]f we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere?”

It helped clue us in as to what kind of policymaker the Illinois Republican really is.

With that in mind, this week, Shimkus argued, in writing, “While private sector employment has declined under President Obama’s watch, the president’s record on government job creation is unmatched for his time in office.” [emphasis in the original]

Now, I don’t expect every member of Congress to be a policy wonk, and I realize some economic issues can be hard to understand at times. But given the jobs crisis, high unemployment, and the fact that policymakers have tried to address an economic downturn that began way back in 2007, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that federal lawmakers at least keep up on the basics.

This is especially true when making a policy point in writing. It’s easy to slip up on a relevant detail while speaking — we’ve all done that — but when presenting an important argument in print about the nation’s most pressing crisis, it’s important not to mislead the public.

And in this case, Shimkus has simply flipped reality on its head. The private sector isn’t shedding jobs; it’s gaining jobs. Public-sector jobs haven’t grown at a record pace; they’ve slipped badly — as Republicans demanded — and are serving as a drag on the larger economy.

This isn’t some complex detail that only select experts are aware of; this is the sort of thing any observer of current events who cares about job policy notices on the first day. Here’s a great chart that Matt Finkelstein put together to help drive the point home:

On a related note, reader C.B. emailed today to note that Shimkus will receive an award from the National Association of Community Health Centers tomorrow, “for his role in expanding health care access to uninsured and underserved individuals.

Shimkus, of course, voted this year to take away health care coverage for millions of uninsured and underserved individuals, and rejected legislation that invests $11 billion in bolstering and expanding community health centers over the next 5 years.