NOTHING BUT ‘NET’…. It’s now impossible for serious observers to claim the stimulus didn’t create new jobs. The leading economic research firms — IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers, and Moody’s — estimate that the effort has already created as many as 1.8 million jobs, and will create about 2.5 million jobs when all is said and done. As far as the independent Congressional Budget Office is concerned, those are conservative estimates — the CBO believes the stimulus is already responsible for as many as 2.4 million jobs.

It leaves the right looking for alternate rhetorical strategies. Today, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) tried a new tack in a press release. Notice the addition of one key word to the GOP talking points:

One year [after the stimulus bill became law], not one net job has been created as unemployment rose from 7.6 percent to nearly 10 percent nationwide. [emphasis added]

Matt Finkelstein explained why this rhetorical shift matters: “The distinction here is important. By shifting the focus to ‘net jobs,’ Pence is effectively conceding that the Recovery Act did create jobs — that, while unemployment rose more than expected, we would be even worse off if the program hadn’t passed.”

This also suggests that Republican officials are starting to worry, at least a little, that the economy might be improving far more than they’d like. If job creation starts picking up in a meaningful way in the Spring, as the Obama administration expects, the good news for the country may be bad news for the GOP’s midterm election strategy. They’ll need something negative to say, and pointing to net job growth may fool a few people.

But probably not many. It’s really very foolish — the recession began in December 2007, and the economy fell off a cliff in September 2008. The month the president took office, thanks to conditions Obama inherited, the economy lost 741,000 jobs. A month later, it was 681,000. A month after that, it was 652,000. Of course there’s going to be a net job loss. The net loss will exist for quite a long while. When a nation experiences a downturn of this severity — easily the worst since the Great Depression — it takes a very long time to make up the lost ground.

The goal is to see improvements and growth. Maybe Pence understands this, maybe not — he is a few threads short of a sweater, if you know what I mean — but either way, this “net job” talk is absurd.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.