GOP SCRAMBLES FOR CREDIT ON ECONOMY…. A couple of news items this morning suggest Americans should see meaningful economic progress in 2011. USA Today reported this morning, “Economists are more optimistic about the recovery than they were just a few months ago, significantly upgrading their forecasts for 2011 as consumers open their wallets.”

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal noted, “U.S. companies plan to hire more workers in the coming months amid growing optimism over the economy, a quarterly survey released Monday showed, providing further evidence that the jobs market is turning around.”

Time will tell whether this optimism is warranted; we can all certainly hope that it is. The recovery is clearly fragile, but there are signs that point to more robust growth.

And that seems to make Republicans a little nervous.

It took less than three weeks for the new Republican Congressional leadership to claim credit for an apparent economic upturn.

An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Brian Patrick, emailed reporters this morning:

THERE ARE THE JOBS: Republicans Prevent Massive Tax Increase, Economy Begins to Improve….

Even by the standards of the most shameless hack, this is farcical. Worse, it’s part of a growing pattern.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), for example, argued two weeks ago, for example, that the recent good news — private-sector job growth, big corporate profits, major gains in the major Wall Street indexes — that occurred throughout 2010 were the result of Republican tax policies. As Kyl sees it, business leaders in early 2010 predicted the tax policy agreement crafted in late 2010, and started growing the economy based on their future-predicting abilities.

On Fox News last week, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) offered a related argument, insisting that indications of economic improvements are “in large part” because Republicans “won our majority and we’re pursuing pro-growth policies.”

To reiterate a point from last week, this really is fascinating. The economy started growing again in 2009, with the stimulus giving the economy a boost. We saw growth continue throughout 2010 — even after those rascally Democrats passed health care reform and Wall Street reform — while Republicans said Dems were killing the economy.

And now we have several Republican leaders arguing that the same tax rates that were in place last year (and the year before that, and the year before that), coupled with economic policies that haven’t even been voted on, deserve the credit for more optimistic projections.

So to review, Republicans in the Bush era brought the global economy to the brink of catastrophic collapse; Obama and congressional Dems helped turn things around; and now those same Republicans whose policies failed want credit for Democratic successes.

I know some folks will find this persuasive, and maybe even some of these GOP officials have deluded themselves into believing their own rhetoric. But it doesn’t make the argument any less ridiculous.

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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.