Rick Hertzberg wrote a great essay four decades ago, which you can find in his collected works, noting that in Liberia, the governing party was called the True Whig Party, and the opposition party the Independent True Whig Party. The essay occurred to me because, in response to President Obama’s American Jobs Act, Senate Republicans are planning to unveil their own bill. They call it the Real American Jobs Act.
The Republican plan is obviously a response to a dilemma. The Party has, somewhat opportunistically, embraced a hard-core anti-Keynesian ideology. This is helpful for lending them a rationale to oppose any economic stimulus. But it places the Party in the awkward position of lacking any positive plan of its own. The Republicans’ new economic worldview takes an essentially fatalistic view of the crisis, dismissing any new action as hopeless or even counterproductive.
That leaves the Party in the awkward position of waiting around for the long run. Over the last few weeks, as Obama has hawked his jobs plan, Obama has gained fifteen points over Republicans on the question of who one trusts to handle job creation. There may also be some room to grow, as people are generally unfamiliar with Obama’s plan, but like the details when informed of them.
The Republican plan is a way to send the message that “we have a jobs plan, too,” without proposing anything that could be the basis for legislative compromise. It remains kind of vague:
They’re planning to roll out a jobs plan that amounts to a conservative’s dream agenda: targeting labor and environmental regulations, enacting a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, lowering corporate and individual tax rates, encouraging energy production and expanding free trade, according to a draft obtained by POLITICO.
The premise of Obama’s proposal was that the two parties couldn’t agree on their long-term vision of government, but the economic emergency was too severe to wait until the election to settle it, so they should act immediately on short-term ideas that have bipartisan support. The GOP response is to issue a series of exclusively long-term proposals lacking any bipartisan support. There’s not much pretense of intending to address the current crisis when your plan has as its cornerstone the passage of a Constitutional amendment.
Politico dryly notes, “Senate Republicans are taking on a risk by putting their ideas in legislative language. They could open themselves up to criticism from Democrats if official budget scorekeepers show that the price tag could drive up the deficit and if economists are dubious on whether it would actually create jobs.”
Let me put this a bit more clearly. There is zero chance that any independent agency or macroeconomic forecaster scores this proposal as either reducing the deficit or increasing employment over the next year. On the deficit, they may propose to cut tax rates, offset by spending cuts or closing tax deductions, but the latter will be totally unspecified. On jobs, the GOP simply will not engage with the premise of the entire macroeconomic forecasting field that the economy is suffering from a lack of demand. The purpose of this bill is to straddle that awkward divide, and provide a sound bite to answer Obama when he says he has a jobs plan.