"It's a jobs-and-economy election." That's what House Speaker John Boehner's pollster and adviser David Winston said recently. Republicans, Winston argued, can't just be against everything President Obama is for, they have to offer "alternatives if people are going to give us the responsibility to govern." Let's ignore the fact that being just against Obama is so ingrained in the collective Republican mind that they'd oppose a cure for Ebola if the president was the one who discovered it. What exactly are the alternatives on jobs and the economy the GOP has put forth, and what effect would they actually have?
On the first question, it's a bit murky. Boehner has been going on about the 46 "jobs" bills that the Republican-dominated House has passed in recent years. He even has come up with his very own hashtag to promote them: #StuckInTheSenate. And only most of the positive responses and tweets are from Republican elected officials or party organs. Senate Republicans have a different list, consisting of only 10 (the New York Times article says nine, but there are 10 on this list posted July 29 to the website of the Senate Republican Policy Committee) from the 46 offered up by Mr. Boehner. Whatever the number of bills on the list, Republicans have a problem: The bills won't do very much to create jobs. And that's according to Republican economists.
Matthew J. Slaughter is on the economics faculty at Dartmouth College. George W. Bush had Professor Slaughter on his Council of Economics Advisers. What did he think? He thought the business tax cuts will "help" (Republicans have never met a business tax cut they didn't like, of course), and then added:
"But...it just struck me as sort of a compendium of modest expectations. If you ask me, 'What's your ballpark guess for how many jobs are going to be created?,' it's just not many."
Slaughter lamented the omission of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, a measure that, according to CBO estimates, would add 3.3 percent to our Gross Domestic Product over 10 years, and 5.4 percent over 20. The CBO also estimates that such a bill would reduce federal deficits by $197 billion in the first decade after enactment, and by another $700 billion in the second. That's a bill, according to Slaughter, "that should be on anybody's list."
Oh, and if one Republican isn't enough for you: Douglas Holtz-Eakin was John McCain's chief economic adviser during his run for the White House in 2008. He's now running a conservative economic think tank, and has slammed Obamacare a number of times, calling it "fiscal folly." Here's what Holtz-Eakin had to say about the various jobs-related plans Republicans have put forth this fall: "I don't think any of these are particular game changers." For good measure, the co-founder of the forecasting outfit Macroeconomic Advisers, Joel Prakken, also looked at the Republican plans, and commented: "I don't think you would get a rush of hiring from passing these bills."
What have Republicans actually done to affect job creation in this country? Nothing good, according to ThinkProgress. They blocked President Obama's American Jobs Act, a measure that would have added about 2 million jobs and 2 percent to economic growth in the first year after passage, according to Mark Zandi, former McCain campaign adviser. Multiple forecasters similarly predicted that the law would have created roughly 150,000 additional jobs per month in the first year. And we know that over the past four years, states that moved rightward in 2010 have significantly underperformed states that moved leftward in that year when it comes to job creation.
As for the country as a whole, we are creating jobs, no thanks to the Republicans. As Paul Krugman has been saying since August 2009, it was government policy--i.e., the Obama stimulus--that saved us from another Great Depression and which has significantly aided job creation since then. In fact, Obama's private sector job creation and unemployment numbers are better than Reagan's. And that was before last month's very strong jobs report.
This month, the level of job openings hit a peak higher than any since January 2001. Just this week the four-week moving average of first time unemployment claims reached a low not seen since the last days of the Clinton administration. As a percentage of the working population, first-time applications for unemployment are closing in on lows not seen in the last four decades. Is everything rosy? Of course not. But the Obama jobs record is certainly a strong one.
In addition to creating more and better jobs, one of the most important things we could do to help working people who are struggling to get by is raise the minimum wage. President Obama and the Democrats are on board. Republicans? From Michigan to Iowa to Wisconsin, well, not so much. And the Republican traveling around the country trying to elect as many of his good buddies as possible? Well, Chris Christie is really just "tired of hearing about the minimum wage ... I don't think there's a mother or father sitting around a kitchen table tonight in America who are saying, 'You know honey, if my son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all our dreams would be realized."
As for the people who may not achieve their fondest dreams but still, I don't know, want to be able to feed, clothe, and house their families, well, Christie apparently doesn't think there's anything to be done for them. But he's wrong. Additionally, raising the wage doesn't just help minimum wage workers, it helps the broader economy as well. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez replied that Governor Christie has "got his head in the sand if he's getting tired about the minimum wage...Chris Christie needs to talk to his economists, who will tell him that 70 percent of GDP growth is consumption."
Here's what it comes down to. The Republican jobs plans won't do anything of real substance. On wages, their rejection of even the concept of a minimum wage shows that Republicans don't care if employers engage in a race to the bottom. Five bucks an hour isn't good enough for you? They'll just find someone else. I thought we'd settled that question during the Great Depression. Sounds like Republicans are channeling the ghost of Herbert Hoover again. I'll take Barack Obama over that crowd in a heartbeat.