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Morning Plum: The real problem with Jeb’s claim that Americans ‘need to work longer hours’

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We now have our first media-designated “major gaffe” of the 2016 presidential campaign: Jeb Bush told the New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board that in order to grow the economy, “people need to work longer hours.”

The comment is being widely pasted by Dems as “out of touch.” The DNC released a statement to that effect, and Hillary Clinton sub-tweeted Bush’s comment: “Anyone who believes Americans aren’t working hard enough hasn’t met enough American workers.” Clinton included a chart showing the widening gap between worker wages and productivity.

Read in context, it seems likely Jeb meant something somewhat different from what he literally said. Whatever he meant to say about workers, what’s really important about the comments is what they demonstrate about his — and the GOP’s — broader economic agenda.

Here’s how the Union Leader reports the exchange:

Bush proposes simplifying the tax code, with reform starting with a goal of lower overall rates.
“My aspirations for the country, and I believe we can achieve it, is for 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see,” Bush said. “Which means we have to be a lot more productive. Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we are going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

It seems possible that Bush meant to say something slightly different — that people should get to work more hours if they want them, and that their productivity should generate more income than it currently is — and that he made a hash of it. If so, what’s really important here is Bush’s apparent overall economic diagnosis: the grand answer is lowering taxes — including at the top — which will trigger runaway growth that will solve those problems, including the gap between productivity and wages.

Indeed, later in the interview, Bush said that to accomplish this, we must dramatically simplify the tax code, which includes “lowering rates.” Bush then went on at length about how cutting taxes and “reducing the size of government” and “shifting power away from Washington” are the economic cure we need. The follow-up question for Bush is: Does this mean one of your solutions for American workers is lowering the tax burden for those at the top? As far as I know, Bush hasn’t detailed his stance on the highest-end tax rates.

In fairness, Hillary Clinton has not detailed her tax policies, either. But it’s likely that she will propose some kind of tax hike on, at a minimum, capital gains and inherited wealth. The major Dem-aligned economic blueprints currently making the rounds both call for making the tax code more progressive. Both make the case that growth is too sluggish, yes, but also that the link between the growth we have seen and the distribution of the fruits of that growth is broken, due to globalization and technological trends that have put downward pressure on wages, and structural economic factors that serve as barriers to mobility and are redistributing wealth upwards. They both argue that a very robust governmental response — an interventionist and redistributive one — is needed to address that disconnect. Hillary Clinton will likely make a similar case (though she probably won’t use the word “redistribution”) when she rolls out her economic policies in speeches this month.

By contrast, Bush’s solution to that broken link seems to be to get government out of the way. I don’t know whether Bush is out of touch with workers or not. But his comments are more important for what they say about his diagnosis of what ails our economy, and the contrast that sets up with the Democratic diagnosis.


 * REPUBLICANS PANIC ABOUT DONALD TRUMP: The Post has a great look at the panic that has set in among top Republicans over the possibility that Donald Trump’s immigration comments could brand the GOP:

The fear…is that Trump will set back the party’s efforts to rehabilitate its image and broaden its reach. And it appears likely that he will be onstage in the presidential debates that begin next month — a dissonant figure in what GOP leaders had hoped to present as a substantive, experienced and appealing field of candidates.

And, of course, this is assuming that the GOP is actually making efforts to “broaden its reach” to minorities in the first place. Onward to the GOP debates!

* JEB POSITIONS HIMSELF AS THE ANTI-TRUMP: Speaking to voters late yesterday, Jeb Bush amplified his push-back against Donald Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as drug dealers as racists by pointing to his wife:

“My wife is from Mexico,” he said. “I love her dearly. Been married for 41 years. I am not going to stop loving my wife. I’m pretty comfortable with that position. I’ll stick with it for a while.”

Using Trump as a foil could make Jeb appear more reasonable and sympathetic on immigration, at least to general election voters.

* REPUBLICAN INFIGHTING AT FULL THROTTLE: Politico takes stock of the mess otherwise known as the GOP-controlled Congress:

The broad disagreement on so many fronts lately is striking. Congress is almost certain, again, to fail to come to a timely agreement on a long-term highway bill….a showdown over government funding is fast approaching. The GOP-controlled Senate and House are at loggerheads, and if they can’t broker a deal with Democrats, the government will shut down at the end of September. A deadline to raise the debt ceiling looms late this year or possibly in early 2016.

There will probably be at least a short term deal of some kind to avert a lapse infrastructure spending when the Highway Trust Fund runs out. But a failure to find a long term solution really would be beyond ridiculous.

 * GET READY FOR BUDGETARY ARMAGEDDON: E.J. Dionne raises the curtain on the budget battles we may see this fall, and notes that Republican opposition to lifting the sequester caps on spending could very well lead to a government shutdown:

Republicans, who suffered politically after every shutdown since the Clinton years, ought to be eager to forge a middle-of-the-road budget agreement and make life easier for their 2016 presidential candidates. If they can elect a president, they’ll have much more freedom to work their will. But for many in the GOP, the temptation to repeat the past is irresistible. With control of both houses of Congress, they hope the House and Senate can agree on a budget and either force it on President Obama or blame him for a shutdown.

I’m not sure folks have gamed out the possibility that if Republicans do take the blame for another round of brinksmanship and chaos, it could rebound badly on the GOP’s presidential hopes.

 * REPUBLICANS COOLING ON OBAMACARE REPEAL: Politico reports that Senate Republicans are increasingly cool to using “reconciliation” to force a simple majority vote to repeal Obamacare. Naturally, this is angering conservatives. But:

Members up for reelection in 2016, and some Republicans from purple states, are leery of launching a repeal without offering any sort of replacement. They’re reluctant to take away Obamacare subsidies for the lower-income and middle class without providing an alternative path to health coverage.

Wait, what? Obamacare repeal could be politically problematic for vulnerable Senate Republicans? Isn’t the law supposed to be a sure political winner in every conceivable way for the GOP?

* AND THE CONFEDERATE FLAG WILL COME DOWN IN SOUTH CAROLINA: The South Carolina House has now approved a bill to take down the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds after a debate featuring emotional outbursts on both sides, and with Governor Nikki Haley supportive, it looks like this era in the state is coming to an end. But this is sobering:

State police said they were investigating an unspecified number of threats against South Carolina lawmakers debating the flag. Police Chief Mark Keel said lawmakers on both sides of the issue had been threatened, but he did not specify which ones.

Let’s hope this is only bluster; meanwhile, the ceremony taking down the flag will likely be a momentous one.