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Democrats Bicker on American Jobs Act

Weekly unemployment claims spiked up again today, and the NY Fed’s survey of regional manufacturing, a key indicator of the economy, was down sharply relative to expectations. This is a crisis time in the economy, and big solutions are needed to arrest the slide.

The American Jobs Act isn’t perfect, but it would improve the situation in a non-trivial way. Republicans aren’t going to support it, however, so the only value in the plan is as a symbol of what Democrats would do on the economy if they had the control of Congress. It’s a political tool, then, that can draw contrast.

Except Democrats can’t get out of their own way with criticism of the plan, increasingly from the right.

Many Congressional Democrats, smarting from the fallout over the 2009 stimulus bill, say there is little chance they will be able to support the bill as a single entity, citing an array of elements they cannot abide.

“I think the American people are very skeptical of big pieces of legislation,” Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said in an interview Wednesday, joining a growing chorus of Democrats who prefer an à la carte version of the bill despite White House resistance to that approach. “For that reason alone I think we should break it up.” [...]

Some are unhappy about the specific types of companies, particularly the oil industry, that would lose tax benefits. “I have said for months that I am not supporting a repeal of tax cuts for the oil industry unless there are other industries that contribute,” said Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.


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A small but vocal group dislikes the payroll tax cuts for employees and small businesses. “I have been very unequivocal,” said Representative Peter A. DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon. “No more tax cuts.” [...]

“I have serious questions about the level of spending that President Obama proposed,” said Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia, in a statement issued right after Mr. Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress last week.

Representative Heath Shuler, another North Carolina Democrat, said Congress should tame the deficit before approving new spending for job programs. “The most important thing is to get our fiscal house in order,” said Mr. Shuler, a leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. “Then we can talk about other aspects of job creation.”

Outside of DeFazio, these are criticisms that the bill goes too far, that it’s too comprehensive, that it spends too much, that it addresses demand rather than deficit reduction. This is the Democratic Party circa 2011, seemingly interested in nothing so much as their own self-destruction. And there’s nothing here to suggest any level of interest in meeting an absolute crisis with the proper amount of urgency.

Jon Cohn dismantles the specific arguments here. But in the main, this is what happens to Democrats when they have a President they perceive as weak. They distance themselves from him, running in whatever direction possible. There’s a hack gap here, as Republicans typically fall in line behind their party leader. There’s another problem with a media that searches for any little speck of controversy to write the “Democrats in disarray” article they have as a template somewhere.

But the substantive effect of this is that Democrats simply cannot leverage popular support for a plan when they bicker amongst themselves about it. So the jobs bill, already fated to fail as policy, fails as politics as well.

David Dayen

David Dayen

David Dayen is the executive editor of The American Prospect. His work has appeared in The Intercept, The New Republic, HuffPost, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and more. His first book, "Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud," winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize, was released by The New Press in 2016. His book, "Fat Cat: The Steve Mnuchin Story," with Rebecca Burns, was published in 2018.

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