Create jobs now, cut the deficit later
Why is Washington so obsessed with reducing the deficit - at a time when most Americans want their leaders to spend serious money on job creation?
You read that right. The budget debate inside the Beltway is center-right, but out in the world, the general sentiment is center-left. At least in the short term, landslide majorities care a lot more about creating jobs than about balancing the books.
The D.C. dialogue is amazingly narrow. The math-challenged Paul Ryan budget plan, which would slash the government safety net and somehow cancel Obamacare on the way to budget-balancing nirvana, is actually taken seriously - whereas a progressive House Democratic plan, which would devote major bucks to jobs programs while deferring budget deficit reduction, is widely dismissed as not serious. Yet it's the progressive plan that is most in sync with public opinion.
The new Gallup poll is merely the latest survey to confirm this truth. When respondents were asked whether they'd support "a federal government program that would spend government money to put people to work on urgent infrastructure repairs" - a description that fits President Obama's long-stalled 2011 proposal - 72 percent said yes. Among swing-voting independents, 71 percent said yes. Even 53 percent of Republicans said yes.
And when respondents were asked whether they'd support "a federal jobs creation law that would spend government money for a new program designed to create more than a million new jobs" - a proposal that Obama floated in his '13 State of the Union - 72 percent again said yes. Among swing-voting independents, 69 percent said yes. Even 52 percent of Republicans said yes.
In the words of Gallup spokesman Jeffrey Jones, Americans overwhelmingly support more government spending for jobs, "even...in an era when deficit reduction is one of the major priorities" in Washington. And those numbers are quite stratospheric. As political blogger Charles Pierce quips on the Esquire website, "You could ask Americans the question, 'Would you favor immediate federal action that would provide you with unlimited whiskey and the sexual favors of your favorite movie stars?' and come close (to those numbers). Maybe."
I suppose that conservatives who lovingly invoked Gallup last fall, when it consistently reported that Mitt Romney was running a competitive race, can now go back to hating Gallup. They'll shrug off the landslide support for federal jobs spending by pointing out that Gallup didn't ask whether support for deficit reduction is even higher.
But we already have those poll numbers. Support for deficit reduction is lower.
The annual National Opinion Research Center poll, sponsored by the University of Chicago, concluded in December that, unlike the leaders in Washington, "the public is not quite so concerned with the federal budget deficit. Although nearly everybody acknowledged that the deficit is an important problem, a solid majority sees job creation as an even more urgent necessity."
The numbers: 74 percent of Americans said that deficit reduction was "very important," but 92 percent said it was "very important" that the government spend more money to boost jobs. And when people were asked whether they prioritized job creation over deficit reduction, 58 percent said yes. Only 41 percent said they prioritized deficit reduction over job creation.
This kind of sentiment is especially strong among the most emergent groups in the electorate: Hispanics, Asians, and voters under 30. Republicans persist in believing (without evidence) that Hispanics and Asians in particular are naturals for the GOP because they're hard-working and family-oriented; but polls consistently show that both ethnicities strongly endorse a robust government role. And as for young voters, the verdict was conclusive in the November exit polls; when they were asked whether government should do more to solve problems, 59 percent said yes, and only 37 percent said no.
So if the public is so willing to widen the parameters of the budget debate, and at least entertain the option of prioritizing federal spending for jobs, how come the parameters in Washington are so narrow? Why is job creation not even part of the equation?
Gee. Take a guess.
Obama was decisively re-elected, the Democrats won the nationwide popular vote in both the House and Senate - yet the Republican framing still dominates. Democratic timidity reigns, as always. The policy options apparently range from "getting our fiscal house in order" (via draconian cuts) to "getting our fiscal house in order" (via less draconian cuts) - with barely a nod to the jobs-oriented budget plan that best mirrors public opinion. If landslide majority sentiment still counts in this democracy, if indeed this democracy is still responsive to that sentiment, the very least we can do is give it a fair hearing.
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