Obama Tax Deal Left GOP Without Jobs and Unemployment Answers

The December tax deal took away the GOP's main economic talking point.

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President Obama caught a lot of flack, particularly from the left, for the tax deal he cut with Republicans in December, extending the Bush tax cuts in exchange for, among other things, an extension of unemployment benefits. Progressives accused Obama of caving to the right and while I disagreed on balance, it still remains to be seen how the repercussions from the deal play out in terms of future negotiations.

But one (perhaps unintended, perhaps intended) consequence seems to be emerging as Democrats start to hammer the jobs message: The deal seems to have taken away one of the GOP’s main talking points on the jobs and unemployment issue.

Congressional Democrats have started lashing House Republicans about their lack of focus on jobs, noting that the new majority’s first few acts have been sops toward the base like healthcare repeals and a raft of abortion-restricting provisions. Wednesday Democrats launched a “When Are the Jobs?” website. [Read Robert Schlesinger: GOP Falling Into the Same Healthcare Trap That Snared Democrats]

But what answer could the GOP have? As I’ve written before, tax cuts have become the alpha and omega of GOP economic policy. But they played that card even before they took control of the House. Having more or less gotten what they wanted they’re not in an especially strong position to go back to the tax cut well--especially in this fiscal environment. Still it's surprising that with an economy that remains soft they are not even making a pro forma rhetorical attempt at cutting the individual tax rate, maybe as a birthday present to Ronald Reagan. Instead House leadership is faced with a rank-and-file uprising on the right demanding more spending cuts. While the GOP has tried to decouple tax cuts from the budget deficit, but even they can’t with a straight face make a new tax cut pitch in the face of the dreaded Obama deficits ... not that the party can credibly claim new status of deficit hawks after their tax deal added hundreds of billions of dollars to the budget deficit. [See editorial cartoons about the GOP]

What they’re left with is a “cut-and-grow” program that even Republicans admit isn’t selling. Here’s the GOP’s problem: the idea that cutting government spending will necessarily lead to job growth might be a given in conservative ivory towers, but its logic isn’t obvious to most Americans. And if they want to know how easy it is to sell notions that require more than one bumper sticker to explain, they can ask the Democrats how the healthcare reform debate turned out.

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