REPORT: The Republican Party's War On Jobs

March 14, 2011 1:19 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

Speaker John Boehner

Last November, when Steve Benen suggested that congressional Republicans were trying to "sabotage" the economic recovery, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson responded by calling him an "idiot" on Twitter and lambasting him in the Washington Post.

At the time, Benen and others making similar arguments had a pretty strong case. Starting with their stubborn refusal to compromise on the Recovery Act, Republicans had voted against several initiatives designed to boost the economy, and their opposition was not always dictated by ideology. For instance, Republicans had blocked the continuation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Fund, a popular program supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs, which had received plaudits from Democratic and Republican governors alike. They also took the unprecedented step of repeatedly opposing the extension of unemployment benefits in the middle of a deep recession.     

Four months later, Gerson is the one who appears, well, lacking in wisdom. Since assuming the majority, House Republicans have focused their attention on symbolic health care votes and divisive anti-abortion bills instead of job creation, which they promised to make their "number one priority." Their only real effort to address the economy, a controversial proposal to slash spending on government programs, could have a devastating impact on the recovery. The best evidence Republican leaders can muster that their massive spending cuts won't harm the economy is the testimony of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who actually believes that the proposal will destroy "a couple hundred thousand" jobs. 

When there's good news, Republicans are quick to claim credit, but it's increasingly apparent that they're more excited about bad news. Just compare the press releases blasted out when monthly job statistics fall below expectations and when they exceed them. This, of course, is all part of a strategy to achieve what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has unapologetically labeled "the single most important thing" for Republicans to accomplish: making sure President Obama loses in 2012.

Gerson and others claim to be outraged by the accusation that Republican politicians would deliberately undermine national interests for political reasons. Yet, conservatives accuse Obama and other Democrats of deliberately undermining national interests for political reasons all the time. And, if ousting the president is really their top priority, why wouldn't Republicans want Obama to fail? 

Like the party's rhetoric, the Republican strategy isn't particularly subtle. In December, they forced through an extension of deficit-bursting tax cuts by arguing that not doing so would kill jobs. But after shouting "where are the jobs?" for two years in the minority, Republicans abruptly abandoned their rallying cry when Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) got the gavel. They made a lazy pass at framing the health care repeal push around jobs — haphazardly tossing the phrase "job-killing" into the title of their bill and fooling almost nobody — before deciding they had bigger fish to fry.

"Some would have us focus on jobs and spending. We must not remain silent when moral battles are being waged," Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) recently said, adding that "America's darkest moments have come when economic arguments trumped moral principles." Pence was defending the "No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act." These days, however, deficit reduction is the Republican Party's raison d'etre, the moral issue to beat them all.

According to poll after poll, the American people want Congress to prioritize jobs over the deficit, but Republicans have calculated that public attitudes — and the potential casualties of their policies  don't really matter. That much was clear last month when Boehner casually acknowledged that many federal employees could get pink slips as a result of Republican policies.

"If some of those jobs are lost," he said, "so be it."

To read our full report, "The Republican Party's War On Jobs," click here.  

— Salvatore Colleluori contributed research for this post.