Last Friday, in response to President Obama’s foolish declaration that the “private sector is doing fine,” Mitt Romney made a gaffe of his own:
Romney said of Obama, “he wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
This plays directly into the administration’s preferred frame for the issue; Obama wants the public to associate “government jobs” with teachers, police officers and other first respondents. It plays on the high status those professions enjoy in most communities, and allows the Obama team to portray Romney as an extremist who will harm your schools and make your children less safe.
This morning, Romney tried to walk back his remarks, and in the process, bolstered the administration’s case:
Romney said his criticism is of Obama’s proposal for additional federal spending to help financially struggling state and municipal governments. “He’s got a new idea, though, and that is to have another stimulus, and to have the federal government send money to try and bail out cities and states,” Romney told Fox. “It didn’t work the first time; it certainly wouldn’t the second time.”
Like his broader criticism of the stimulus, there’s no angle from which this makes sense. Because they are constrained by the need to balance a budget, states and localities are often forced to cut jobs for public employees in order to make ends meet. By delivering aid to states, the stimulus ensured that thousands would remain employed, and provide a buffer to further economic deterioration.
The truth of the matter, as Obama pointed out last week, is that the decline in public sector employment has been a tremendous drag on the economy. At present, the economy has lost more than 600,000 public sector jobs since 2010. If those jobs had been preserved—with more aid to states—the unemployment rate would be closer to 7 percent, and Barack Obama would be cruising to re-election.
Obviously, it’s too late to save those jobs. But a renewed burst of help for states and localities would be an excellent way to keep the economy from falling into a second recession. Hence, the American Jobs Act, which provides for billions in aid to states, so that municipalities can preserve existing jobs, and hire new teachers, firefighters and police officers.
Romney’s pledge to reject aid to states would be a disaster; further lay-offs would harm the economy, in addition to have a deleterious effect on localities across the country. Indeed, as Ari Berman points out, this gets to the broader problem with Romney’s stance on the economy; he doesn’t have a job creation plan. What he has is a Republican Party wish list of policies that would be passed regardless of the economic situation: new tax cuts, deep spending cuts and a dramatic increase in military spending.
If carried out, this agenda would plunge the United States into a second recession, and cause further misery for millions of vulnerable people. Like Scott Walker did in Wisconsin, Romney is planning a bait-and-switch for the American people, and his constant misleading attacks on Obama’s economic record are an attempt to conceal that fact.