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Morning Jay: The Jobs Bill Won't Save Obama's Job

6:00 AM, Sep 14, 2011 • By JAY COST
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The president sure seems excited about his jobs bill, as he runs around the country like it’s a political game-changer. Liberals seem pretty jazzed about it, too. They all appear to think that this is just the tonic the White House needed: an obviously excellent proposal that will reveal congressional Republicans to be the atavistic obstructionists they are.

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Color me skeptical. In fact, I count four very good reasons why this jobs bill is not going to save the president’s job next year.

1. The bill can’t pass. I know the meme on the left is that the GOP is now so addicted to obstructionism that it can’t pass a sensible bill like this, even though it used to all the time, back in those halcyon days long gone when the two sides worked together to advance the liberal agenda.

Nonsense. When was the last time the Republican party agreed to nearly half a trillion in new tax hikes largely to fund Democratic client groups? Trick question – it’s never happened. It’s worth remembering as well that Bill Clinton proposed a much smaller, $16 billion stimulus in 1993 that was similar in form – and Senate Republicans filibustered it.

The Obama administration appears to think it can win the political argument even if it can’t actually get something substantive passed. But I’m not sure why the White House believes that. Two times in the last year the GOP House and President Obama have deadlocked, and two times both sides were hurt. Not equally – congressional job approval fell more sharply than Obama’s – but the president does not get to run against Congress on the ballot next year, and in all likelihood the GOP nominee will not come from the legislature.

2. It’s full of tax hikes. The conventional wisdom on these tax hikes is that they are broadly popular. All but the scrooges among us favor increasing taxes on millionaires and billionaires to fix our crumbling infrastructure and keep teachers in schools, right? I mean, goodness gracious, Warren Buffett pays less in taxes than his secretary! Can’t we fix that?! (Memo to Mr. Buffett: the Treasury Department takes donations.)

But if this narrative really holds true, why didn’t Democrats increase taxes on the wealthy at any point during the two years they controlled the Congress?

The answer has to do with framing the tax issue for the electorate. When media's pollsters frame the tax cut question in terms favorable to the Democratic party – e.g. by referencing the wealthy – it polls very well. But that is not the frame the GOP will use during the electoral campaign. Republicans will point to the aggregate amount of taxes – the shock value of “half a trillion in new taxes” can’t be underestimated – and they will mention the burden on small businesses.

If you think that the GOP can’t make hay about a $500 billion tax increase in this economic environment, then you haven’t been paying attention for the last thirty years.

This is similar to the good polling numbers for the “public option” during the health care debate. The media's polls used friendly buzzwords Democratic spinmeisters developed and – surprise, surprise! – found that they worked. But even for all those good numbers, party leaders still could not muster the votes in the Senate for it. And no wonder: After the Republicans and all the interest groups who opposed it had finished with their ad blitzes, the “public option” would have been like a curse word in the public mind.

3. It’s a stimulus rehash. Another framing device Republicans can and will use: The jobs bill brings back many of the old stimulus proposals.

Various and sundry tax credits, new unemployment insurance compensation, infrastructure spending, state government bailouts – all of this was in the 2009 proposal. One of the few new items is a tax cut for businesses that hire the unemployed, but Obama actually proposed something like this for the stimulus in January 2009 only to have congressional Democrats strike it because they didn’t think it would stimulate the economy.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) polls very poorly, which is why Democrats are no longer using the word “stimulus.” However, the overlap between the ARRA and the American Jobs Act is so great that the GOP nominee can easily tie the two together.

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