6 Republican Economic Myths Obama and Dems Must Stop Repeating
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But much of President Obama first term was marked by his unwillingness to assert the importance of public sector jobs in the economy. He has even failed to point out that increasing public employment was properly used during recent Republican administrations as eminently sensible responses to economic downturns. As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post pointed out June 13, “Government employment grew under all those Republican presidents. Not only did we not lay off public workers, we hired more of them, a lot more. That helped prevent bad recessions from turning into horrible ones.”
However, each month during an economic recovery that still remains less than robust, President Obama hails the vigor of “private-sector sector job” growth, while scrupulously avoiding comment on how public-sector cutbacks have been slowing down the recovery. President Obama and leading Democrats have been remarkably quiet about major cuts in public-sector jobs which have undermined the strength of the recovery. America’s public sector has lost an estimated 695,000 local, state and federal jobs over the past two years.
With Obama and many leading Democrats almost entirely silent on the impact of public job losses, it was left to Mark Zandi, former economic adviser to John McCain’s campaign and chief analyst of Moody Analytics, to note, “The job losses at state and local governments is the most serious weight on the job market.”
Moreover, the president has failed to honestly discuss the alarming decline in the quality of jobs in the private sector. Since the official end of the Great Recession, almost 60 percent of jobs created since the end of the recession pay less than $13.83 an hour. This trend toward low-wage jobs intensifies economic inequality in America: in 2010, fully 93 percent of all income gains were siphoned up by only the richest 1 percent of Americans.
3. Public Employees Are a Problem
The Republicans’ hostility to public employees has become literally world famous, highlighted by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to extinguish long-standing rights to union representation for almost all public employees (legislation was passed through devious means, but much of it is now tied up in court) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s even more sweeping bill (overturned by 61 percent of the state’s voters in November 2011).
Walker cast public employees as privileged haves exploiting the have-nots of the general public, diverting public attention away from a tax structure that allows 62 percent of Wisconsin corporations with $100 million or more in revenues to pay no state income taxes.
Instead, Walker sought to rivet resentment over rising inequality on the backs of teachers, nurses and other public workers by blaming them for a modest budget shortfall caused in large part by new corporate tax breaks granted by Walker.
President Obama, despite having promised to walk the picket lines when labor rights were attacked, refused even to challenge the assumptions behind Walker’s strategy to justify the extermination of public sector unions.
In fact, Obama spokesman Jay Carney argued that any alleged fiscal crisis justifies stringent budget measures by state officials. Such purported crises also signaled the need for sacrifices by public employees: “Obviously a lot of states in the union are dealing with fiscal issues, big problems in their state budgets… they need to act responsibly, tighten their belts, live within their means just as we in Washington, the executive branch, congress, need to do with our federal situation.”
But this White House position obscured the reality in Wisconsin, to Walker’s advantage. In fact, the major unions had agreed to the financial concessions demanded by Walker in exchange for workers retaining their right to union representation—an offer Walker flatly refused.