John Boehner's "So Be It" Economics
February 17, 2011 - 7:59am ET
With a turn of phrase that ranks right up there with "I'm alright, Jack," "We care about the small people," and "Let them eat cake," House Speaker John Boehner voiced the Republican response to concerns about the consequences the GOP's budget cuts for millions of Americans, their families and their communities: "So be it."
If House Republicans succeed in cutting tens of billions of dollars in discretionary spending over the next six months, some of the most immediate victims will be federal employees, many of whose jobs will be slashed as their agencies pare back.
At a press conference in the lobby of RNC headquarters Tuesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) shrugged this off as collateral damage.
"In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs," Boehner said. "If some of those jobs are lost so be it. We're broke."
Some of those employees will no doubt collect unemployment insurance, so the government's obligation to them won't disappear with their jobs.
Boehner was responding to a specific question about the GOP's job-killing budget cuts, but his answer also applies to the disastrous consequences of every conservative proposal from repealing health care reform, to abolishing the EPA and the Department of Education: "So be it." (Or, more succinctly,:"Drop dead.")
Of course, Boehner got his numbers wrong.
Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post reported last September that there were only 20,000 more federal employees under Obama in 2010 than under George W. Bush in 2002 -- and that, on a per capita basis (federal employees per 1,000 Americans), it's at the lowest level at least since 1962.
It probably never mattered to Boenher that he was was wrong about the number of jobs, because as far as he was concerned, he wasn't talking about real jobs. Earlier I wrote that progressives and conservatives aren't talking about the same thing when we talk about jobs. It's true, in a couple of different ways. As Steve Benen pointed out, Republicans understand that at the end of the day voters will lean towards whoever they think is doing more for them. So, the GOP has been working hard frame the deficit-driven budget cutting as a jobs agenda.
Their logic is a little fuzzy, because when Republicans talk about jobs, they aren't talking about creating jobs so much as creating the right "atmosphere" for businesses to start hiring again. Or, as John Boehner explained, slashing jobs from the budget creates certainty where there is uncertainty, and certainty creates jobs. Maybe.
Short and sharp is what is needed to rebut Captain Win the Future. So far, the message needs some work: "By running up the spending money we don't have, running up the huge budget deficits, we create more uncertainty in the private sector," says House Speaker John Boehner, who then becomes almost tautological. "This is where cutting spending will create jobs because it is going to bring greater fiscal responsibility in Washington, D.C., end some of the uncertainty, and allow jobs to be created in America."
The problem is that it gets even fuzzier. Apparently, after establishing the correct atmosphere and banishing uncertainty, the next step is... Not much, really. After that, job creation and economic growth just happen.
The problem is that we tried that already, and it didn't happen. Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the now-extended Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, did little to create jobs or broad prosperity. The Bush era saw the rich get richer while the rest of us worked harder and harder just to break even. It ended up being an era of zero job growth, and Bush left office with the worst record on job growth of any president since such records were kept.
In that light, it's particularly maddening that Republican budget cuts will end up killing more jobs than were created during the Bush era. But it makes perfect sense to Boehner and the House Republicans, because most of the jobs they're so eager to slash out of existence aren't real jobs. At least, not in the conservative mind.
It doesn't matter that you go to a workplace, perform a task or service, and earn a paycheck for that performing task or service. It's possible you still don't have a "real job." Just like not all Americans are "real Americans," not all jobs are "real jobs." That's what Republicans mean when they say "government doesn't create jobs."
Boehner's off-the-cuff remarks. reminded me of a long debate that I once had with a libertarian conservative, who insisted that the government couldn't create jobs. As it went on, our discourse revealed that his arguments were based on the assumption that jobs created by government can't really be jobs, because government jobs — and jobs created or subsidized by government — are not "real jobs," and "real jobs" are only created in the private sector. If it's not done for profit, it's not a "real job," and probably doesn't need doing and shouldn't be done in the first place.
"So be it, " Boehner said, because to him the jobs his agenda would destroy aren't "real jobs" in the first place. So, there's no real economic loss because no "real jobs" are lost. And, by extension, no "real Americans" are hurt because "real Americans" only have "real jobs" in the first place.
Digby probably put it best when she summed up Boehner's response as writing off real Americans.
It looks like the Republicans have decided they don't need the votes of any people who work for the government or any of their families...
Hell, they can just go out and get a new job anyway, right? Oh wait ...
If the democrats played their cards right they would make a huge deal out of this and start protecting government workers, many of whom are, after all, Real Americans. I'd evoke the Oklahoma City victims and talk about people who work for homeland security, firefighters and nurses.
This right wing war on public employees should accrue to Democrats benefit. After all, there are about 3 million federal employees (not including clandestine workers) and probably just as many in the states. But that requires that they speak up in support of them and call attention to things like Boehner's comments like Russ Feingold did when Wisconsin Governor Walker declared that he was going to bust the public employee unions and replace them with their neighbors in the National Guard.
John Boehner and the GOP seem to think that slashing government jobs, and sending millions more Americans to the unemployment line doesn't impact "real America." They couldn't be more wrong, according to Dana Milbank.
Boehner stood firm in his polished tassel loafers. "Since President Obama has taken office the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs, and if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it," he said.
"Do you have any estimate of how many will?" Caldwell pressed. "And won't that negatively impact the economy?"
"I do not," Boehner replied, moving to the next questioner.
Well, Mr. Speaker, I do. I checked with budget expert Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress, and, using the usual multipliers, he calculated that the cuts - a net of $59 billion in the last half of fiscal 2011 - would lead to the loss of 650,000 government jobs, and the indirect loss of 325,000 more jobs as fewer government workers travel and buy things. That's nearly 1 million jobs - possibly enough to tip the economy back into recession.
So be it?
But, as Digby points out, federal workers aren't all in Washington. There are likely just as many in the states, and many of them in the home districts of GOP representatives. You know, "real America"? Killing those jobs means killing jobs at home — in other words, killing "real jobs" in "real America." Last fall's Washington Post/Kaiser Foundation survey on government found that killing jobs at home is exactly what most Americans don't want.
Even as Americans generally hold Washington in low regard, they still like much of the work it does. Support for government action on such issues as national defense, health care and fighting poverty remains high, in some cases just where it was a decade ago.
Nearly six in 10 say they want their congressional representatives to fight for additional government spending in their districts to spur job creation; fewer (39 percent) want their member of Congress to cut spending, even if that means not as many local jobs. This is a turnabout from September 1994, when 53 percent said they wanted their representative to battle against spending and 42 percent were on the other side.
"Real America" gets it in a way that that Boehner and the House Republicans don't. "Real America" understands that some government spending means local jobs that deliver needed services. They understand that those jobs mean paychecks, and those paychecks mean more people spending money at home, supporting jobs at home, and keeping even more people working at home. As Milbank pointed out, "government workers travel and buy things." That includes government workers in the states, too. And it's clear by now that the what Laura Flander's calls "the culture war on jobs" also extends to public workers in the states.
It might be the greatest bait and switch ever pulled on the American voter. For two successive election cycles we've been promised jobs, a recovering economy, attention to the Constitution. After the last one, triumphant Republican after triumphant Republican declared November's to be an election decided on jobs.
Well I don't know what jobs you had in mind, but I'll bet most voters weren't thinking axe wielder or culture warrior. But suddenly all we're getting is tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for everyone else, and no jobs, unless you happen to be paid for pursuing abortion doctors.
Call it class combat with a nice healthy side dose of culture war.
...And those kinder, gentler Republicans who were going to bring back jobs to their states, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin? They're busy threatening to call out the National Guard on workers who don't like having their rights to collective bargaining taken away—or having their jobs slashed. That's not exactly concern for the economy, Governor Walker.
The only job created that I can see in all this mess, is the job of finding us an electoral system that could elect some very different sort of politicians.
That now all-but-declared war hasn't gone unnoticed by the workers, families, and communities against whom it's waged. Wisconsin's war on it public workers has sparked huge protests from workers and communities who understand it's an unnecessary war of choice against a false-but-politically-convenient "enemy." (That includes the Green Bay Packers, BTW.)
Public employees around the country have become the nation's scapegoats for the rough economy, with many Republican politicians in recent months criticizing them as privileged, overpaid and underworked -- unlike their private sector counterparts. But in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) is now in hot water, facing an overwhelming backlash from the state's residents.
... The Republican Party of Wisconsin has said that Walker's plan will save Wisconsin $30 million over the next three months and $300 million over the next two years.
But some questioned whether his proposal is really financially necessary. The governor himself claims that Wisconsin can save $165 million by the end of next June simply by restructuring existing debt. Additionally, the share of corporate tax revenue funding the state government has fallen by half since 1981 and, according to Wisconsin Department of Revenue, two-thirds of corporations pay no taxes.
"I don't think there's any question that what Gov. Walker is trying to do here is not simply outrageous -- one of the worst things I've ever seen a Wisconsin governor do -- but he's just acting on a long-time corporate wish: the fantasy of destroying unions," former Wisconsin Democratic senator Russ Feingold told The Huffington Post in an interview on Tuesday. Feingold is launching a new political action committee called Progressives United, aimed at combating the influence of corporate power in politics.
Calling Walker's actions "big government at its worst," Feingold said that Republicans are trying to pit private workers against their public counterparts.
Walker, Boehner, and the rest of the GOP would be wise to take notice of recent events in Egypt, where economic inequality and inflation have led Egyptian citizens to, as Flanders said, "find an electoral system that could elect some very different sorts of politicians." They would do well to consider that the same kind of anger is simmering here at home, as Robert Reich noted, with the same potential political manifestation.
In fact, polls show an increasing portion of the electorate angry with an insider “establishment” – on Wall Street, in corporate suites, and in Washington – that’s been feathering its nest at the public’s expense. The Tea Party is but one manifestation of a widening perception that the game is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful.
When Mitt Romney spoke at CPAC, he uttered at least one truth. "Fight for every job!" he said, "Because every job is a paycheck and paychecks fuel Americans dreams." The callous, cavalier attitude of Boehner and the GOP towards those Americans whose jobs mean paychecks that not only feed and house their families, but support countless other jobs, is nothing less than an attack on the "American dreams" Romney spoke of — one that Americans won't accept. Not without a fight.
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