Real Factor in Midterms: Too Few Jobs, Not Too Much Spending
"I know we should provide more money for state government to prevent hundreds of thousands of teachers, police, and public workers from being laid off, but I just can't vote for one more bill that increases the deficit."
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that - or something similar about other job creating programs from a Member of Congress - I could probably retire.
Many Democratic Members of Congress are convinced that it is bad politics for them to support more spending on jobs, if it isn't "off set" by other cuts or increases in revenues. They're convinced by polls that show great public concern over "government spending and the deficit."
But they are dead wrong about the political consequences of the choices before them.
There is one factor driving the anger and unhappiness that is so palpable in the electorate: people are worried about the economic prospects of their families. They are frightened about their futures. They worry that their children may have less economic opportunity than they did.
And there is only one "political message" that really addresses this sense of economic insecurity. Voters have to see things actually getting better for their families and their neighbors. They have to see their brother-in-law finally get a job.
Yesterday, Economist Alan Blinder published a piece in the Wall Street Journal that clearly stated the case that the economic policies undertaken by the Obama Administration and Democratic Congress have done an enormous amount to create new jobs - and to rescue the economy from the potential of another Great Depression.
There is no doubt that this is true. Of course it's hard to get credit for avoiding disaster. But more importantly, the everyday economic circumstances of everyday people - while they are definitely improving - aren't improving enough to make them feel hopeful. That's why the single most important thing Democrats in Congress can do to improve the political climate this fall is anything that creates or saves more jobs.
Don't get me wrong. There are many things that Democrats can do to take back the political momentum in the midterm elections.
We can make certain that the debate presents the voters with a choice of paths to the future, not just a referendum on the status quo. Do we want to go back to the failed Bush economic policies that favored Wall Street, Big Oil, and Insurance Companies and that devastated the Middle Class and Small Business? That is a very resonant message. The polling shows that most Americans understand that the policies of the Bush years - and the Wall Street banks were the real culprits that cost eight million Americans their jobs. We have to constantly remind them that the Republican alternative involves going back to the bad ole days of yesteryear.
We can make a strong case that if the Republicans are the Party of "No" now, Republican control of Congress would deliver gridlock. Remember many voters who are angry at what they perceive as inaction (notwithstanding the health care bill, stimulus bill, and Wall Street reform bill) - not too much action.
And increasingly, focus groups show that there is much unease that many Republican candidates are simply extremists.
Polling and focus groups show that these are very compelling messages for the fall. And they will be strengthened mightily when we put meat on the bones - when we spell out exactly the policies that the Republicans would like to put in place.
A lot of swing voters find it easy to fall for the Republican posturing about "government spending" until we drive home the fact that they want to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a system of vouchers - or privatize Social Security.
All of these are important elements for a successful Democratic strategy in the fall. But to deal with the underlying sense of anxiety and anger, nothing will work besides actually creating more jobs - more short term economic opportunity.
Less than five months before Election Day there are very few ways for Congress - or the White House - to affect the jobs situation in November. Most new government action takes months to actually kick in.
There is, however, one, that does not. Providing money - and guarantees of funding - for state and local governments will actually prevent the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs. With the assurance of Federal funding, states and localities can act immediately to keep people working - with incomes that keep them buying the products that keep other people working.
If the Congress does not act, hundreds of thousands of Americans will be laid off. That is horrible politics for Democrats - particularly Democrats in swing Congressional Districts.
With the economy actually creating jobs, the last thing we need are massive state and local layoffs that offset that job creation. That would involve snatching economic defeat from the jaws of victory.
And contrary to the Republican blathering that "only the private sector can create real jobs," there is no one that would argue that teachers, firemen, police officers, emergency medical personnel, and the people who build and maintain roads do not do "real jobs." These are jobs performing some of the most economically vital tasks in our economy - and if they are not done, real damage will be done to the present economy and the future prospects of our children.
The Democratic leadership in both Houses - and the White House - understand this political and economic reality clearly. But fear of voting to "increase the deficit" has infected many Members of the Democratic caucus so completely that they risk failing to take actions that can actually improve their own chances for reelection.
Voters will not remember or care whether they vote for this or that funding bill that "increased the deficit" -- and the Republicans will say they voted to increase the deficit no matter what they do. What the voters will remember is how they feel about the overall direction of the economy and the jobs situation. That feeling is the starting place for any other message that Democratic incumbents will try to communicate this fall.
The fact is that voting for jobs is always good politics.
Democratic Members of Congress can't let Republicans frighten them into doing something that is both bad for the economy and bad for themselves politically. Congress needs to pass a robust jobs bill - including aide to state and local government now.