Listening to Congressional leaders these days, it’s easy to forget that over a year ago Republicans put the budget at the top of the legislative agenda, and swamped Democrats at the polls with a simple question: “Where are the jobs?!”
For better or worse those issues are now inextricably linked. By consensus, job creation measures will have to be paid for, and doing anything substantial to help the economy now will require passing a larger and more equitable package of deficit-reducing policies than Republicans ever wanted.
Thus, the imperatives of the moment are issues Democrats want to tackle — both for ideological reasons and out of political necessity. Their roles have flipped, in other words, with Democrats demanding swift action on the economy and deficits, and Republicans slinking into the background on both issues.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) calls the Democrats’ demands, “big, bold, and balanced.” On Thursday, she presented the deficit super committee with dozens of pages of policy recommendations, drafted by her caucus’ ranking committee members, focused on growing the economy and reducing the deficit.
“We want open hearings,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday at her weekly Capitol briefing. “Rule five of their rules talked about transparency so we want to honor their rules by having much more transparency in the proceedings. We’re calling upon the super committee and the co-chairs to have open hearings with the Domenici-Rivlin proposal, the Simpson-Bowles proposal, and the Gang of Six. We think that they provide a good pathway, a good framework, for deficit reduction, economic growth, and can be a good place for us to start.”
Those three proposals have a few key things in common, but most imporantly, they all call for significantly greater deficit reduction than the Super Committee is tasked with finding — a mix of tax increases, program cuts, and savings, combined with near-term support for the economy. That’s the model most experts support, it’s the basis for President Obama’s jobs bill and deficit reduction proposals, and, conceptually, it has broad support among Democrats in Congress.
If that’s Big, Bold, and Balanced, meet Tiny, Tepid, and Tilted. That’s become the GOP’s approach. Lacking the same incentive Democrats have to boost the economy, and chronically unwilling to raise even trivial new revenues, Republicans are prepared to let the Super Committee accomplish the bare minimum: No big, balanced deficit reduction, and thus no real movement on the economy.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) — the lone tribune in GOP leadership for an even modestly balanced deficit plan — appears to have given up all hope.
“People can add up a lot of different numbers,” he told reporters Thursday. “You can take the Overseas Contingency Account which is about $1 trillion worth of savings as a result of a draw-down of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s already going to happen. Some people want to put that into the overall number. Some want to take the number that we’ve already done — $1.2 trillion worth of discretionary savings — and add it to the number. So you can get to a $4 or $5 trillion number if you’re able to meet your one-and-a-half trillion dollar goal for the Super Committee.”
In other words, the easiest way to get there is to fudge it.
Boehner claims, as do most GOP leaders, that Republicans are willing to support some of the measures in Obama’s jobs bill. His counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, told reporters Wednesday that those elements should be folded into the Super Committee’s recommendations.
“There are government actions that we can take,” McConnell told reporters. “We may take some of these on a bipartisan basis before the end of the year. Some of them are probably going to be considered by the Joint Select Committee.”
Republican members, most notably House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) have circumscribed the areas of overlap, though, and they are indeed quite modest — nowhere near what the economy needs to fill its yawning productivity gap.
Republicans offer a number of competing plans as counterpoints, all based on familiar conservative themes: slash corporate taxes, nix regulations, drill for domestic oil, and expand free trade. But these are GOP wishlist items, not historically bipartisan policies designed to provide an immediate jolt to the economy.
And so on the most important issues of the day in the eyes of the public, the Democrats are standing alone.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.