Jobs and unemployment remain voters’ top concerns — which ought to make fiscal stimulus for the ailing economy the main priority in Washington. But Congressional Republicans now insist that curtailing environmental and labor regulations, a perennial obsession of theirs, is the silver bullet for job growth.
In a Monday memo to his Republican colleagues, Majority Leader Eric Cantor outlined his party’s vision:
As you know, we released The House Republican Plan for America’s Job Creators earlier this year. While the debt crisis has demanded much of our attention, our new majority has passed over a dozen pro-growth measures to address the equally troubling jobs crisis, such as the Energy Tax Prevention Act and the Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act.
Our regulatory relief agenda will include repeal of specific regulations, as well as fundamental and structural reform of the rule-making system through legislation like the REINS Act, the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act, and reform of the Administrative Procedures Act (all three bills are expected on the floor in late November and early December).
The following is a list of the 10 most harmful job-destroying regulations that our committee chairmen have identified, as well as a selective calendar for their repeal. These regulations are reflective of the types of costly bureaucratic handcuffs that Washington has imposed upon business people who want to create jobs.
Cantor goes on to cite a litany of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings in favor of workers and citizens and against business interests.
But while it might please the right-wing base, this legislative wish-list would hardly bring relief to the unemployed.
“For these guys, when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This strikes me as trying to adapt their anti-regulatory, anti-labor agenda into a jobs plan. And it’s pretty cynical. I’d be amazed if this kind of an agenda moved the needle one bit on unemployment,” said Jared Bernstein, who served as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economist in the White House from 2009 through 2010 and is an expert on labor issues at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Indeed, it is remarkable that a financial crisis — born at least in part of insufficient regulation — has been seized by the Republican Party as an opportunity to roll back rules that still constrain the corporate sector’s excesses.
“I know that Americans have short memories but I think most of us can still remember what happened in 2007 and 2008 and how we got into a period when we have nearly one in 10 people who want a job out of work for years now,” said Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank. “A lot of that was because of the collapse of the housing bubble and what we had done in terms of deregulating Wall Street all coming home to roost. It doesn’t seem to make sense that if you give banks more lax regulations that that’s going to solve the problems that got us here in the first place.”
Both economists were more optimistic, though, about President Obama’s choice to lead the Council of Economic Advisors, Princeton Professor Alan Krueger, who served at the Treasury Department for much of Obama’s first two years in office.
“It’s an inspired choice,” Bernstein said. “Alan is a great guy for this job. First of all, he’s a labor market economist. It’s somewhat unusual to have the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors be a labor person. With the unemployment rate stuck around 9 percent, having Alan at the head of the CEA is something that should give us some hope. He’s an expert in unemployment and policies designed to help reduce joblessness, and I think he’s going to be a very strong advocate in the White House for more targeted jobs measures.”
Increasing demand in the economy is the surest way to boost employment, Boushey said, and that includes extending the president’s 2010 payroll tax cut — or some other tax credit for the working poor and middle class.
“A smart jobs agenda would focus on: how can we boost investments in infrastructure immediately. Both as an economist and an American taxpayer, I’d like to see our government dollars spent the best way with the best bang for its buck. That payroll tax cut got bipartisan support. If that’s the best we can do, by all means let’s do it. [But] there are more efficient ways to spend government resources. The Making Work Pay tax credit that we had a couple of years ago [as part of the Stimulus program] was a better targeted and more efficient and effective use of funds.”
With unemployment hovering at 9 percent and his approval ratings sagging, the president has every incentive to brighten the jobs picture. The same cannot be said of his Republican counterparts, whose overwhelmingly ideological, scatter-shot approach to easing burdens on business shows little promise for putting the millions of Americans without it back to work.