Eyeing the real crisis, not the manufactured one

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters this afternoon that policymakers “need to move to a jobs agenda as soon as possible.”

Ya don’t say.

To be sure, the debt-ceiling deal reached yesterday doesn’t help with the jobs crisis, but it doesn’t proactively make matters worse, either. The cuts for the 2012 fiscal year are largely non-existent, and even if additional cuts are triggered by a failure of the bipartisan commission, those cuts also wouldn’t kick in until 2013 (when, one can only hope, the economy is on stronger footing).

All that’s required, then, is the political will to take job creation seriously. It was lacking in 2010 — Dems nervous about the midterms were afraid to make necessary investments, and couldn’t overcome GOP filibusters anyway — and the issue has been wiped from the to-do list altogether so far in 2011, with emboldened Republicans seemingly eager to do everything except create jobs.

With this in mind, there are two questions: how soon the “pivot” can happen and what kind of policies we can expect if it occurs. On the former, Greg Sargent notes today that the issue is starting to take center stage.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing has been holding extensive meetings with officials in both parties, but particularly the Democratic Party, about some new polling the group released finding overwhelming public support for prioritizing job creation over deficit reduction. The group’s executive director, Scott Paul, says he’s been cautiously encouraged by the interest lawmakers are showing in his pitch, in which he suggests that they embrace an array of pro-manufacturing policies.

That poll found that when given an either/or choice, 67 percent, or more than two thirds, want job creation favored, while just 29 percent want Washington to focus on deficits. The poll also found increased support for government action to bolster the manufacturing sector.

Two of D.C.’s best known pollsters, Dem Mark Mellman and Republican Whit Aryes, have been briefing lawmakers in their respective parties, including party leaders, on the poll’s findings, and have urged them to seriously consider a real pivot to jobs after the deficit deal is finalized, Paul tells me.

That 120 House Democrats showed up for a briefing on this last Thursday — in the midst of a bitter fight on a debt-reduction bill — is encouraging.

But what happens if there’s broad unanimity that job creation must stay atop DC’s to-do list? If Dems say, “How about an ambitious stimulus package!” it would fail. If Republicans say, “Let’s eliminate the EPA and cut taxes again on billionaires!” it’ll fail, too.

So what can policymakers do to at least try to make a difference? Keep an eye on a few measures, including the infrastructure bank, an extension of the payroll tax break, and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits. These are modest steps, but they’d help, and they used to enjoy bipartisan support before Republicans went mad.

There’s also the Fed, which can’t be pushed by Congress, but which can recognize the part of its mandate that has nothing to do with inflation.