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The Obama Jobs Bill Held Hostage (Again)

Republicans have once again blocked President Obama’s efforts to create jobs – and, once again, they’ve done so not by voting against a proposal but by preventing a vote on the proposal from taking place.

It happened Thursday night, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to end debate on the “Teachers, First Responders Back to Work Act.” As the bill’s name implies, it would send money to the states, so they can stop firing – and, ideally, start rehiring – public employees. The measure has broad support among economists but almost none among the Republicans in Washington. When Reid brought up his motion, not a single Republican supported it. Instead, they voted to let debate continue endlessly, under a filibuster. That gave them only 47 votes, less than a majority but more than enough to sustain a filibuster. 

None of this is surprising, I know. And I’ve said it before. But it’s important to be clear about what’s happening here: Reid got 50 votes in support of the measure, losing only three conservative members of his own caucus. It's entirely fair to say that, if not for the Republican-led filibuster, this bill or something close to it would be on its way to the House right now. 

Republicans insist they, too, have a jobs agenda. And it’s true: Both House and Senate Republicans have now put forward plans to improve the economy. But it’d be more accurate to call them “plans.” They are comically bereft of specifics. They also lack the validation of respected independent authorities, whether it’s the Congressional Budget Office or private forecasters.

Just yesterday, Macroeconomic Advisers published a formal assessment of the Senate Republican plan. It warns that a proposed Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) could actually slow the economy, although it notes that the proposal is "maddeningly vague," making a firm evaluation impossible. Macroeconomic Advisers also dismisses Republican arguments about regulation as “talking points.” 

Macroeconomic Advisers concedes that some Republican proposals might help the economy in the long run, depending on the details. Those elements, it suggests, might make a nice complement to other job creation measures. But would the Senate Republican proposal do much for jobs in the short term? Macroeconomic Advisers doesn't think so:

there’s a sense here that [the Senate jobs bill] is motivated by a belief that the plan is simply the right thing to do, irrespective of short-run effects and distributional consequences—some of which could be negative—and independent of any hard empirical estimates of the long-run benefits. In our judgment and apart from the BBA, the long-run objectives of the plan are not without merit, but it is a reach to argue that quick enactment of [the Senate jobs bill] would significantly reduce the unemployment rate over the next year or two because, in our view, the plan does not address the root cause of today’s unemployment—namely, insufficient aggregate demand.

Paul Krugman makes a similar point in his column today. Even if you accept Republican claims on jobs creation, the timing of what they propose is far from ideal: Most of the jobs wouldn't appear right away. The Obama agenda, by contrast, would focus on boosting growth in the next two years, then paying for that investment by raising taxes on the very rich over a lengthy period of time. 

In a recent survey of forecasters by Bloomberg News, forecasters agreed that a plan like Obama's would help the nation avoid another recession. Estimates of just how many jobs it would create differed; evenif  the most optimistic assessments turned out to be true, far too many Americans would remain out of work. But most forecasters seem to think the Obama bill would help -- and many (including Macroeconomic Advisers) think it would help a lot.

Of course, Republicans say they don't believe the forecasting models and the widely, although not universally, accepted economic theories underlying them. That's certainly their prerogative. On the other hand, they get their validation from authorities like the Heritage Foundation and the American Petroleum Institute. Readers can decide for themselves whose argument is more compelling. For some guidance, I'd suggest reading Glenn Kessler's analysis in the Washington Post.

Update: Matt Yglesias makes the case for this particular proposal with three vivid graphs showing the rise in private sector employment and offsetting decline in public sector employment.