The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Could the ‘House of Cards’ America Works program actually work?

Kevin Spacey as President Frank Underwood at a campaign stop in Iowa in "House of Cards" season 3. (via Netflix)

President Frank Underwood's major policy proposal in "House of Cards" season 3 is America Works, a "universal employment" program designed to end reliance on entitlements and propel Underwood to a full term in 2016. But could the fictional jobs program work in real life?

In Underwood's America, the unemployment rate is up and his approval ratings are down. He said he wants to create 10 million jobs (there are currently 9 million unemployed people in the real Obama's America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and described AmWorks as having the "size and scope of the New Deal." "If you want a job you get a job," Underwood said.

There aren't too many details about the program. (Yes, this is a TV show and details on policy proposals are sparse.)

Here's what we do know about AmWorks:

1. Unemployed people register with the government to receive a job.
2. New jobs are created by the government in infrastructure, maintenance, repair, defense...
3. ...and through the private sector, which can receive up to $45,000 from the government to go towards salaries for each new position created.
4. The costs are covered by cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
5. It's expected to cost $500 billion.
6. It's expected to create 10 million jobs.

(To jump start the program, Underwood takes advantage of vague wording in the Stafford Act, about disaster relief, to classify unemployment as a "disaster" and re-appropriate FEMA funds to pay for AmWorks in Washington, D.C. to prove its effectiveness.)

I spoke with Stan Veuger, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, about how AmWorks would play out in reality. Basically, not very well, he said.

"Socialist countries typically have something like that," he said.

AmWorks would be "similar to raising the minimum wage to stratospheric levels," Veuger added, noting that such a move would lead to "wage-driven inflation." Paying for the program out of entitlements could also push people out of Social Security and back into the workforce. "I think overall, it's a terrible idea," he concluded.

Whether or not the 50,000 jobs created by AmWorks' limited run in the District of Columbia will convince the voters in Underwood's America otherwise will be a question for "House of Cards" season 4.