Huntsman’s confusion about the American Jobs Act matters

Plenty of Republicans, including some alleged moderates, have complained bitterly about the American Jobs Act, accusing the plan of calling for “nearly $500 billion in new spending.” Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman made the charge on Fox News this morning.

BILL HEMMER (HOST): You served this president in China, would you back his jobs plan now?

HUNTSMAN: Of course not. We don’t need another $500 billion, $450 billion in spending. These are half-measures, Bill. We can’t afford, as a country with an economy that is sucking wind, we can’t have half-measures and half-steps here and there. We’ve gotta be big, we’ve gotta be bold, and we’ve gotta be honest with the American people.

Good idea. We can start by separating fact from fiction, which Huntsman neglected to do.

I’d be delighted if Republicans were telling the truth and President Obama’s plan did include $500 billion in spending. Given the economic impact of that much direct investment, that sounds to me like a terrific idea.

But that’s not quite what the American Jobs Act is all about. As it exists now, the White House plan totals about $450 billion, but of that total, roughly $250 billion is made up of tax cuts, not spending. That’s well over half the total package. The rest of the American Jobs Act includes about $60 billion for unemployment aid and job training, and $140 billion for infrastructure and saving public-sector jobs (teachers, firefighters, police officers).

When Huntsman complains “we don’t need … $450 billion in spending,” the truth is (a) $450 billion in spending doesn’t sound so bad; and (b) that’s really not what this plan is.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that Huntsman’s criticism is rather ironic given recent history. In 2009, Huntsman argued on statewide television that the Recovery Act wasn’t good enough because — you guessed it — the stimulus didn’t spend enough money. In particular, Huntsman said at the time he wanted fewer tax breaks and more infrastructure spending, putting him to the left of many congressional Democrats.

And now he’s complaining about the spending in the American Jobs Act? Please.