The $1.6 trillion in tax hikes in the White House’s fiscal cliff proposal is the main focus of the political argument right now, but the plan also contained an array of economic stimulus measures, such as $50 billion in infrastructure spending to create jobs. And Republicans are balking not just at the tax hikes on the rich, but at the call for more stimulus spending, too, claiming that more spending to create jobs will widen the deficit.
So perhaps it’s time for a reminder: This election wasn’t just about taxes and the deficit. It was also about whether government should invest more in job creation. And the electorate’s verdict was: Yes, it should.
Steve Benen has been arguing that the Washington conversation shouldn’t be focused just on the deficit, but also on jobs. As he notes: “The American mainstream wants Washington to focus on getting Americans back to work and making the struggling recovery more robust.” I would only add that this was heavily litigated in the election — with a clear outcome — a basic political fact that keeps getting lost in discussions about what the outcome told us about taxes.
Republicans will argue that during the campaign Obama cleverly couched the call for more spending in benign language about government “investment” in the middle class. There’s some truth to that. It’s also true that Obama didn’t campaign that directly on the specific job creation proposals in the American Jobs Act. And it should be noted that polls showed strong public skepticism about Obama’s first stimulus and about the general idea that government can create jobs. But here again, when the talk turned to specifics, public skepticism about government action on the economy suddenly disappeared: Polls also showed overwhelming support for specific government job creation policies, such as infrastructure spending.
In broad strokes, the election featured a big argument over the central question of whether government should act — and, yes, spend — to create jobs and boost the economy. Obama ran multiple ads claiming we should raise taxes on the wealthy specifically to be able to invest in job creation and in strengthening middle class economic security. He campaigned heavily on the auto bailout as vindication for his push for government intervention in the economy to preserve American jobs and revive manufacturing. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, dismissed Obama’s call for government investment in job creation as more out of control spending and said dramatically cutting that spending was the way to boost the economy, create jobs and generate broadly shared prosperity.
There’s some basis for the GOP claim that the public wants to see the deficit brought under control partly by spending cuts in some areas. However, that doesn’t preclude short term government action to boost job creation and the economy. And on that front, the public sided with the Democratic vision.