December 7, 2012

Associated Press

Today’s monthly jobs report (remember how much the political world cared about it during the campaign?) is not too bad: The economy added 146,000 nonfarm jobs, and the unemployment rate edged down again, to 7.7 percent. But the jobs numbers for the last two months were both significantly revised downwards. The overall picture remains weak and inconclusive. Untold numbers of Americans remain stranded in chronic joblessness.

Look: This is just crazy. It is time for the fiscal cliff talks to focus seriously on doing something about unemployment, not just about taxes and the deficit.

Democrats need to absolutely insist on this. Some Dems in Congress were planning to seize on today’s jobs numbers to renew the push for more stimulus in any fiscal cliff deal — an extension of unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut, and more infrastructure spending to boost the economy. The fact that today’s jobs numbers were more decent than expected should not change this. Millions of Americans are still suffering.

The election that just concluded was very clear on this point. Though the results are constantly interpreted through the prism of what they tell us about public opinion on taxes and entitlements, the campaign also heavily litigated the question of whether government should act to spur job creation and the economy. Though Obama didn’t always campaign directly on the American Jobs Act, he did campaign unequivocally on the idea that government should expand its efforts to create jobs, alleviate economic suffering, and bolster long term economic security. Mitt Romney campaigned unequivocally on the idea that the way to spur the economy is to roll back such government action dramatically.

That remains the current position of Republicans in the fiscal cliff talks — that the current crisis is all about the deficit, spending, and entitlements. But the  election also turned heavily on the question of what to do about the short term economic crisis. Remember how the candidates clashed for months over how to create jobs? Obama won, and Democrats made gains in both houses of Congress. It’s good to see Dems fighting hard when it comes to the debt ceiling and tax hikes on the rich. Let’s broaden that to include focusing the fiscal cliff talks on jobs.

* Will payroll tax cut be in final fiscal deal? Relatedly, this is dispiriting, and worth keeping an eye on: Analysts increasingly believe that an extension of the payroll tax cut will not end up in any final deal resolving the fiscal cliff standoff. They think that Republicans will insist on its removal as a price for their concessions and that Dems may agree, if not to junking the extension completely, than to only an extension of a smaller percentage of it.

So: How much stimulus will end up in the final deal?

* Time to talk about jobs, not just austerity: Paul Krugman says what needs to be said: The unemployment crisis is as much in need of immediate action as the deficit is, but the debate in Washington is misguidedly framed solely around the need for austerity. And this is partly because of Democratic acquiescence.

 * Labor keeps up pressure on Dems over fiscal cliff: The big unions — AFSCME, SEIU, the NEA — are launching another round of TV ads pressuring Senate Democrats not to give ground to the GOP demand for deep Medicare cuts. The ad targeting Claire McCaskill is here and the ad pressuring Mark Warner is here.

 As I’ve noted before, such activity reflects a genuine fear on the left that Obama and Dems will ultimately decide they have to accept entitlement cuts that heavily impact Medicare beneficiaries — many conservatives seem adamant that only this constitutes “real” reform — to get them to accept higher tax rates.

* Obama administration may fight legalization of marijuana: This will drive some discussion today: The administration is considering federal legal action against two state initiatives that passed earlier this month legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington State.

The key thing to watch for here is how aggressively the administration does this — for example, will the Justice Department file lawsuits to block the states from setting up systems to implement legalization? If so, it will infuriate many liberals who worked hard to reelect the president.

* Obama’s post-election approval running high: A new Associated Press poll finds Obama’s approval rating at 57 percent, and perhaps more crucially, a majority thinks he’ll be able to improve the economy in his second term. Meanwhile, approval of Congress is in the toilet, at 23 percent. The question is whether approval of Obama’s path forward on the economy translates into increased leverage over the GOP on taxes, the fiscal cliff, and the debt ceiling.

* Why Obama won’t negotiate over debt ceiling: Matthew Yglesias details all the various governmental weapons Obama has in his arsenal to make it as painful as possible for Republicans if they insist on another debt ceiling standoff. I see no reason to doubt Obama’s seriousness in declaring that there will be no negotiations if Republicans rerun their 2011 play.

* DeMint will exert power from outside the Senate:  Caitlin Huey-Burns has an interesting look at how DeMint will use his new post to exert even more pressure on Republicans — Senate and House alike — to toe the Tea Party line. And this is a great catch:

DeMint later joked with Rush Limbaugh that he can now place greater pressure on Boehner. Asked whether the speaker — whose feathers DeMint ruffled during last year’s debt ceiling fight — forced him out of office, DeMint replied, “It might work a little bit the other way.”

 The problem is that this kind of thing could lead to fewer moderate Republicans being willing to run for office, which won’t help the GOP in the long run.

* DeMint move reveals power shift in conservative movement: Steve Kornacki makes a key point about the larger meaning of DeMint’s new gig:

What DeMint has apparently figured out is that in today’s Republican universe there’s less of a relationship than ever between holding office and holding power. This is what the rise of insular conservative media has done. News is interpreted, talking points are developed and agendas are set on Fox News, talk radio and in the right-wing blogosphere. Republican members of Congress, by and large, take their cues from conservative media, rather than shaping it…way back, DeMint needed his office to attract attention, but now that he’s a huge player in the insular Republican universe, he doesn’t need it anymore.

As I argued here yesterday, DeMint may do more damage from outside the Senate than he ever did within it.

* And GOP quietly sent cash to Todd Akin: You’ll be startled to hear that after vowing to have nothing more to do with Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, the NRSC sent his campaign some $760,000 in early November, just before he lost to Claire McCaskill. The move is a reminder of the broader difficulties created for the GOP this cycle by Tea Partyers seemingly committed to saddling the party with terrible general election candidates.

 What else?