Taking Responsibility

Will those who got us in this economic mess now help to get us out instead of prolonging the agony, asks Scott Lilly.

Jerry Lewis (AP)
Jerry Lewis (AP)

Since the Republican Conference of the U.S. House of Representatives is largely made up of individuals who believe their party lost the 2008 elections because they did not run far enough to the right, it is not surprising that their leaders are now attempting to block efforts to clean up the mess their far right philosophy created. There appears to be no factoid or morsel of misinformation they are unwilling to utilize to make the case to do nothing other than provide still more tax cuts to their business friends.

The recent editorial by the senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, the so-called “King of Pork” from California’s Inland Empire, is a good case in point. Rep. Jerry Lewis’s argument is that spending in other people’s districts doesn’t create jobs, but he attempts to make it appear that he has factual support for that argument by making assertions that are flatly untrue.

His first argument is that estimates of job creation under the package do not calculate the impact of government borrowing as well as the impact of the spending. That is simply not the case. Projections by economist Christine Romer—now head of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors—as well as those of other macroeconomic forecasters include the overall impact of the proposal measuring the effect on credit markets, prices, consumer demand, and job creation.

Rep. Lewis apparently unwittingly puts his finger precisely on the problem that the U.S. economy now faces. The government is being forced into the role of borrower of last resort because the economic mismanagement of recent years has left so much of our private sector in such tatters that the rest of the private sector will not extend the credit necessary for the economy to function. It is regrettable that we are where we now find ourselves, but we should have thought of that a few years ago.

Lewis also makes totally false arguments about the cost of job creation. He claims that if the package creates only 3 million jobs, the cost per job of an $825 billion package would be $275,000. The Romer analysis, however, indicates that by the fourth quarter of 2010 the smaller package first put forward by the White House would have created 3.6 million jobs. That analysis also shows that in addition to the jobs created in 2010 the package would create substantial additional numbers of jobs in 2009, 2011, and 2012, making the annual cost per job a small fraction of the figure used by Lewis.

While Romer and Jared Bernstein—now Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economic advisor—used very conservatives estimates of job creation, another estimate by Mark Zandi, the Chief Economist at Moody’s Economy.Com, projects that a somewhat smaller package than the one now under consideration by Congress would produce nearly than 15 million additional man years of employment between now and the end of 2012. That works out to about $50,000 per man year of work. It should also be noted that the plan will produce a substantial number of additional jobs beyond 2012.

It is unfortunate that government cannot turn on the spigots of job creation more rapidly, and that the damage already done to households and businesses cannot be repaired more quickly. Those were facts that Rep. Lewis and his House Republican colleagues should have weighed more thoughtfully when they blocked a smaller stimulus package in September. Had it been passed and implemented then, money would now be flowing and the precipitous drops in monthly employment that we are now enduring might have been significantly softened.

What seems to be the real message being put forward by House Republicans is that government should hand out additional tax cuts to businesses and then sit on the sidelines. It is time for the loyal opposition to recognize their responsibility for the mess in which we now find ourselves and begin to find ways to be part of the solution rather than prolonging the agony in which millions of jobless Americans and at-risk families are now suffering.

Scott Lilly is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund

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Scott Lilly

Senior Fellow