Selling a New Stimulus

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While Mitch McConnell is betting that the economy will bring down President Obama, Democrats are betting that Republicans aren’t immune to the bad jobs numbers either.

Senate Democratic leaders held a press conference this morning calling on Republicans to include a short-term stimulus package as part of the deficit reduction deal. “Look at polls in the reddest of states, and job creation and getting the economy going rates as high, if not higher, than deficit reduction,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. “Both are important. So, their view that they were elected on a mandate of simply cutting the deficit even if we continue to lose jobs and the unemployment rate stays at 9% — I won’t want to run on that in 2012.”

Schumer said the package could include several items popular with Republicans, such as payroll-tax holidays and leniency for corporations looking to repatriate profits. But in a sign of how much Republicans have grown to loathe the word stimulus, such suggestions have been met with derision. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan called tax holidays “a sugar high.” House Speaker John Boehner called it “a gimmick.” And at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor this morning, McConnell said: “Stop the borrowing and spending. Stop the over-regulation. Pass the trade bills… Of the various things that the government could do at this point, I think the most important thing is to quit what we’ve been doing.”

All of which means a push for more stimulus would be pretty much dead on arrival–especially given that aside from (gasp!) deficit spending, Democrats have no way to pay for new stimuli. “This is a stimulus program. A stimulus program is paid for over the long run, so it should be part of the deficit-reduction package. And let’s say it costs $50 billion or $100 billion–we’re going to have to make that up to keep with the President’s goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years,” Schumer said.

Despite the fact that stimulus has become a dirty word, Democrats believe they have a political opening to portray Republicans as fixated on deficits at the expense of the economy’s overall health. Schumer ticked off a list of bipartisan bills that have died in the Senate due to Republican opposition, such as a measure to help small businesses and the Economic Development Act, which was filibustered on Tuesday. This “shows they are just opposing anything that we are trying to create jobs,” he said. “It almost makes you wonder if they are trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.”

Almost across the board, voters rate jobs and the economy as their highest priorities. And it played right into the Democratic drumbeat when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a guy first appointed by President George W. Bush, told Congress on Wednesday that he didn’t think “sharp, immediate cuts in the deficit would create more jobs.” Still, when asked who they trust more on jobs and the economy, voters lean toward Republicans these days. To sell a new stimulus, Democrats have their work cut out for them.