Earlier versions of this column said that a lack of effective regulation led to the deaths of 78 coal miners last year in West Virginia. The accident in question, at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine, killed 29 miners, not 78. This version has been corrected.
'Job-killing' regulation? 'Job-killing' spending? Let's kill this GOP canard.
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 10:37 PM
Republicans these days can't get through a sentence without tossing in their new favorite adjective, "job-killing."
There's "job-killing legislation," in particular the health-care reform law. And "job-killing regulations," especially anything coming out of the EPA and the IRS. Big deficits are always "job-killing," which might come as something of a surprise to all you Keynesians out there, along with the "job-killing spending binge" and even "job-killing stimulus projects."
President Obama, we are told repeatedly, runs a "job-killing administration" with a "job-killing agenda" carried out by, you guessed it, a "job-killing bureaucracy."
In the fevered Republican imagination, the entire federal government is a "job-killing machine" or - my personal favorite - a "job-killing beast."
And if you're a Republican, it is now a violation of House rules to utter the word "taxes" or "tax increase" on the chamber floor without the "job-killing" prefix. (Okay, I'm exaggerating - but only slightly.)
Type "job killing" into Google and you'll get more than 1.2 million hits. On the Factiva news database, it comes up 11,115 times during 2009 and 2010, compared with 1,373 times during the previous two years. A Republican talking point, a Fox News broadcast or a Chamber of Commerce press release is now incomplete without it.
What's so curious is that it's hard to find almost any Republican concern about employment homicide during 2008, when George W. Bush was president and the economy was shedding 4.4 million jobs. Given the lag with which economic policy works, the biggest net job loss that could credibly be assigned to Obama during his two years in office would be less than a million.
Ironically, the first order of legislative business in the new Republican House will be to repeal last year's health-care reform law. Since the immediate impact of the measure will be to allow 30 million more Americans the chance to buy drugs and medical services from doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, it's hard to imagine a more effective way to reduce employment in the one sector that is actually adding jobs.
The other GOP priority is to cut $100 billion this year from the government's domestic spending, which translates into the loss of close to a million jobs for government workers and contractors. Apparently, in the stylized way that Republicans count things, those positions don't count as real jobs.
What's particularly noteworthy about this fixation with "job killing" is that it stands in such contrast to the complete lack of concern about policies that kill people rather than jobs.
Repealing health-care reform, for instance, would inevitably lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths each year because of an inability to get medical care.
Although lack of effective regulation led directly to the deaths of 29 coal miners last year in West Virginia, Republicans continue to insist that any reform of mine safety laws is bad for miners' employment.
Republicans also continue to oppose food safety legislation that could save the lives of hundreds of Americans killed each year by contaminated food, just as they oppose any regulation that would effectively keep assault weapons out of the hands of convicted criminals and narco-terrorists who kill thousands of innocent victims on both sides of the Rio Grande.
And although a blue-ribbon panel has now concluded that a lack of effective government regulation contributed to an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the deaths of 11 oil rig workers (along with countless numbers of birds, fish and other wildlife), all Republicans can talk about is the jobs that might be lost as a result of more vigorous oversight of deep-water drilling.
I wonder how Republicans and their media posse would like it if Democrats started referring to "genocidal" deregulation or the "murderous" repeal of health-care reform. Or if Republican economic policies were likened to the infamous neutron bomb - they kill the workers but leave their jobs intact.
Unfair? No doubt. But no more so than portraying as "job-killing" every regulation, every tax and every dollar of government spending.
There is an unmistakable redbaiting quality to the "job-killing" rhetoric, a throwback to the McCarthy era. It reflects the sort of economic fundamentalism better suited to Afghan politics than American. Rather than contributing to the political dialogue, it is a substitute for serious discussion. And the fact that it continues unabated suggests that Republicans are not ready to compromise or to govern.
So the next time you hear some politician or radio blowhard or corporate hack tossing around the "job-killing" accusation, you can be pretty sure he's not somebody to be taken seriously. It's a sign that he disrespects your intelligence, disrespects the truth and disrespects the democratic process. By poisoning the political well and making it difficult for our political system to respond effectively to economic challenges, Republicans may turn out to be the biggest job killers of all.