Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Senator Ron Johnson and The American Jobs Act

Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson recently replied to President Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress. In email sent to Wisconsin voters, Senator Johnson called The American Jobs Act “the definition of insanity” because, to the Senator’s way of thinking, it merely repeats American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

Actually, Mr. Johnson could not bring himself to use the proper titles of either the ARRA or the President’s proposed legislation. The latter is simply the “latest government stimulus program.” Neither could Mr. Johnson address any of the specifics of the proposed legislation.

Mr. Johnson did begin with ad hominem.

“As I sat listening carefully to our President, it was painfully clear that his remarks were merely a campaign speech. His proposals were designed to assist in his reelection campaign, rather than a serious attempt to forge alliances, address our massive debt, strengthen our economy and create jobs.”

It has been difficult for Republicans to deal with a president who is arguably the best communicator to occupy the Oval Office since President Ronald Reagan. It is particularly grating as this president follows eight years of Mr. George W. Bush, who was the master of malapropisms. President Obama, however, repeatedly spoke to the concerns of both Republicans and opponents in his own party. He appealed for their support in terms of their own goals. Mr. Johnson’s claim that Mr. Obama’s address was only a campaign speech is inaccurate and unfair.

Certainly Mr. Obama’s speech cheered his supporters and annoyed his opponents. It is undeniable that Mr. Obama is running for a second term and the speech did not hurt that effort. That there was a political aspect to the speech is unsurprising to any mature observer of our government. Characterizing the detailed proposal the President set before the joint session of Congress as merely a campaign speech, however, only reveals the weakness of Mr. Johnson’s position.

That weakness is manifest as Mr. Johnson sputters on in his email.

“Even worse, the overall substance of his proposals were nothing more than a rehashing and repackaging of the same big government, ideological agenda that our President has already tried – driven our debt up another $4 Trillion - and have failed miserably. These ideas would simply double down on that failure.”

Mr. Johnson needs a grammarian. Verbs are supposed to agree with the subject of a sentence. “Substance” is singular and requires the singular “was” not “were.” He should have chosen “rehashing” or “repackaging.” Using both is redundant. The accusation that the President’s “ideological agenda” drove up the debt “another $4 Trillion” calls for another sentence and should not have been smashed into this one. (Trillion should not be capitalized.)

Mr. Johnson ignores the niceties of grammar and the specifics of the President’s speech because all he has is Tea Party boilerplate. Mr. Johnson rants about “big government” but says nothing about the President’s expressed goal of jolting the private sector back to life. He ignores the President’s proposals to help small business. He makes no mention of the President’s tax cuts for middle class consumers. He is oblivious of the need to help the long-term unemployed.

In sum, Mr. Johnson’s complaint does not touch upon anything the President actually said, but merely repeats the talking points of the House radical Republicans. By ignoring the proposed American Jobs Recovery Act, he fails to prove that it is merely a repackaging of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The most significant falsehood of Mr. Johnson’s missive is his assertion that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was a failure.

“Since his inauguration, during admittedly tough economic conditions, President Obama has taken America 180 degrees in the wrong direction. His failed $800 billion stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and the explosion of his Administration's other job killing regulations have combined to put a stranglehold on our economy.”

Mr. Johnson’s only concession to the President is that he took office “during admittedly tough economic conditions.” This is a gross understatement. The President took office after decades of deregulation of the financial market initiated by Republican President Ronald Reagan and fostered by Randian Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Republican policies resulted in the 1980s Savings and Loan Crisis, the 2001 Internet Stock Bubble and finally, beginning in 2007, greatest financial meltdown since the Depression.

Mr. Johnson conveniently ignores the details so that he can continue to rail against government regulations. He specifies no regulations that kill jobs. It is he, not the President, who fails to learn from history.

(Note: Inside Job (2010), the Academy Award-winning documentary film about the late-2000s financial crisis directed by Charles H. Ferguson and narrated by Matt Damon is one-sided, and, I believe, unfair to President Obama. Its subject is complicated. Nevertheless, it is a good introduction to all the facts that Republicans would have us ignore.)

The Republicans have blocked the full implementation of the Dodd-Frank bill, so it is impossible to attribute anything good or ill to it. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – which Mr. Johnson calls “Obamacare”—will not be fully implemented until 2014. That leaves only the so-called “failed $800 billion stimulus,” ARRA, as a possible “stranglehold on our economy.”

Did the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 fail to increase employment? Mr. Johnson and his fellow Republicans have repeatedly said that it did. The economy is still in recession. Unemployment is still high. The ARRA did fail to meet with the administration’s projections. All of this, together with the fact that many citizens cannot distinguish GDP from GPS, makes the Republicans’ simple declarative statement, “The stimulus failed,” persuasive.

Repeat a falsehood long enough and you will convince the masses. This is particularly true with a subject as complicated as the economy.

On September 27, 2010, the independent FactCheck.org posted, “The economic stimulus package is a favorite target of Republican candidates and groups, but more than a few ads falsely claim it did not create or save any jobs. … The truth is that the stimulus increased employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million people, compared with what employment would have been otherwise.” (FactCheck.org, “Did the Stimulus Created Jobs?”) 

The Richmond Times-Dispatch PolitiFact.com examined Republican Eric Cantor’s May 26th, 2011, statement, “They (Democrats) passed a nearly $1 trillion stimulus bill which failed to get people back to work.” The Virginia publication rated Mr. Cantor’s statement false after consulting experts from both the right and the left.

Both of these publications based their conclusions in part on the 2010 report of the Congressional Budget Office, which stated: “… CBO estimates that ARRA’s policies had the following effects in the second quarter of calendar year 2010:
  •    They raised real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.7 percent and 4.5 percent,
  •    Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points,
  •    Increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million, and
  •    Increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 2.0 million to 4.8 million compared with what would have occurred otherwise …” ( http://www.cbo.gov )
If Senator Ron Johnson had been doing his job, he would have known about the CBO report.

What animates Mr. Johnson, however, is not concern for the unemployed or the challenges of a global economy in recession. Mr. Johnson, as I pointed out in October of 2009, is an advocate of the Atheistic Capitalism of Ayn Rand. He is a true believer in an ideology that holds that government involvement in the economy, in any way, at any time, is wrong. From health care, to stimulus, to regulation, the government can only kill jobs.

Mr. Johnson writes, “President Obama simply and sadly does not understand the basic economic truth that expansion and job creation must come from the private sector, not government.”

One hopes that President Obama understands that in difficult economic times, remedies must be sought from both the private and public sectors. Progressives hope he understands that the history of this country is in part the history of a mixed economy, with the government playing a positive role in protecting the country from the excesses of capitalism. Mr. Johnson and his ilk hanker for a pure capitalism that has never existed and is every bit as false as Marxist-Leninist millennialism.

It is the insupportable small government advocacy of Mr. Johnson and his Republican colleagues that will take us in the wrong direction, as the August unemployment figures indicate.

“On September 2nd the government reported no net jobs were created in August. To be precise, private firms created 17,000 jobs while governments trimmed payrolls by the same amount. Adjusting for striking mobile-phone company workers, underlying private job growth was actually more like 60,000, consistent with an economy still growing; but barely.” (The Economist, “A Choice of Medicines,” September 10, 2011.)

The Economist does not say so, but I suspect the “governments” that trimmed their payrolls are the state governments run by Republican governors, like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Among the jobs trimmed are those of school teachers. President Obama’s American Jobs Act calls for the hiring of teachers to train students to be competitive in an increasingly global job market. This is just one small detail that shows that President Obama is the one working for America’s future, not Mr. Johnson and his small-government colleagues.

President Obama’s American Jobs Act is not all that progressives wanted. It is more than they expected. It is not a magic bullet. It will not immediately reverse the global recession. Mr. Johnson may choose to ignore it. The Congress should pass it and press on to strengthen both the private and public sectors of the economy.


michael patrick said...

One example of President Barak Obama's contribution to private sector job creation (while probably more motivated by the need to fulfill an ideological campaign promise) was his half-billion dollar 'commitment to green energy' in the company Solyndra. The reality of this scandal is that middle class workers have lost their jobs with no notice, the United States invested in a bankrupt company that was selling products for less than the cost of production, and nobody can explain where over $500,000 has gone. One would hope that Democrats would decry the squandering of taxpayer money. One would EXPECT the Republicans to. Fact is they are BOTH too hung up on their ideologies to face reality. The reality is that the middle class is screwed whether its a Dem or Rep in office.

michael patrick said...

Correction - that's $500,000,000!

Michael James Hill said...

Facts first. Nobody cares where "over $500,000 has gone." The question is what has become of $535,000,000 in loan guarantees.

Second. Since the Solyndra affair is still under investigation by the FBI, Energy Department, Justice Department, and House Judiciary Committee, it is too soon to draw any firm conclusions.

Third. This one incident hardly refutes the conclusions of the CBO about the overall positive effect of the stimulus bill. Government money gets misspent all the time. This calls for oversight and does not undermine the principle that government needs to spend when the private sector does not.

Lastly, the middle class of the USA was the envy of the world from WWII under both Republican and Democrat presidents until President Reagan. It was only after the public was seduced into thinking the "government is the problem" and deregulation that things started going south. Now we have a conservative movement that is radically Randian and holds that our elected government is the enemy. This ideology ignores facts, as Senator Johnson has done.

You need to read more history.