Estimates Say Fewer Jobs, Larger Deficits if Republicans Were in Charge

Nothing is more important to Republican politicians these days than jobs and the deficit—at least according to Republican politicians. As House Minority Leader John Boehner put it in a "major economic address" on Tuesday, President Obama is "doing everything possible to prevent jobs from being created" while refusing to do anything at all "about bringing down the deficits that threaten our economy." Elect Republicans in November, Boehner assured his audience, and we will put an end to this insanity.

There's only one problem with Boehner's message: so far, the things that Republicans have said they want to do won't actually boost employment or reduce deficits. In fact, much the opposite. By combing through a variety of studies and projections from nonpartisan economic sources, we here at Gaggle headquarters have found that if Republicans were in charge from January 2009 onward—and if they were now given carte blanche to enact the proposals they want to—the projected 2010–2020 deficits would be larger than they are under Obama, and fewer people would probably be employed. 

The math is pretty straightforward. Let's start with the deficit. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Obama's stimulus plan is projected to increase budget deficits over the next decade by $814 billion. That's a big number. But Republicans opposed the legislation refused to provide an alternative, and now insist that it's been a total failure. So let's be generous and subtract it from their side of the equation. The Obama deficit: $814 billion. The GOP deficit: $0.

Next up is health-care reform. Obama passed it; Republicans want to repeal it "lock, stock, and barrel." The reason, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained in July, is that "we all know that it's going to increase the deficit." Unfortunately for the GOP, though, nonpartisan experts tend to disagree. Just this Tuesday, for example, the CBO released a letter saying that Obama's health-care-reform legislation would "reduce the projected budget deficit by $30 billion over the next 10 years,” while repealing the law would generate "an increase in deficits ... of $455 billion ... over that [same] period." Factor those figures into the equation and the Obama deficit falls to $784 billion. The GOP deficit, meanwhile, rises to $455 billion. Getting warmer.

The final piece of the puzzle is the Bush tax cuts. Obama wants to extend them for the 95 percent of taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year; Republicans want to extend them for everybody. How will these extensions affect the deficit? Glad you asked. According to data compiled by The Washington Post, "the Democratic proposal would add about $3 trillion to the deficit during the next decade, while the GOP plan would cost $3.7 trillion." That brings the total Obama deficit to $3.784 trillion over 10 years, and its GOP counterpart to—drumroll, please—$4.155 trillion.

That's right. Even if we assume that the Republicans would've spent $0 to stimulate the economy in the wake of the largest economic collapse since the Great Depression—an unlikely scenario, given the very real risks of inaction—their proposed policies would still produce a deficit $371 billion larger than President Obama's.

(Or $335 billion; Boehner also says he'd like to freeze nondefense discretionary spending at 2008 levels, which would save a grand total of $36 billion.)

On jobs, it's a similar story. So far, Republicans have only said they'd do—or that they would've done—two large-scale things the Democrats haven't: (1) scrap the stimulus, and (2) extend the Bush tax cuts for Americans earning more than $250,000 so as not to (in Boehner's words) "impose job-killing tax hikes on families and small businesses."

How would these measures affect employment? Regarding the stimulus, the answer is pretty clear. In a report out this week, the CBO estimates that between 1.4 million and 3.3 million fewer people would be employed right now if the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had never made it through Congress. Split the difference, and the pro-stimulus Obama moves ahead of the anti-stimulus GOP by about 2.35 million jobs. (A more dramatic estimate by the economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi [a McCain 2008 adviser] puts the number at 2.7 million, but we'll stick with the CBO stats for now.)

The effect of tax cuts on job creation is a little trickier to tally. Extending all of them, according to the CBO, would lower unemployment by 0.3 to 0.8 percent over the next year or so; extending them solely for people making less than $250,000 would produce a somewhat smaller effect, for a difference of roughly 200,000 to 500,000 people. The problem, as economist William G. Gale of the Brookings Institution has noted, is that "of 11 potential stimulus policies the CBO recently examined, an extension of all of the Bush tax cuts ties for lowest bang for the buck." In fact, he continues, "letting the high-income tax cuts expire and using the money for aid to the states, extensions of unemployment insurance benefits, [or] tax credits favoring job creation ... would have about three times the impact ... as continuing the Bush tax cuts."

In addition, it's unlikely that extending the cuts for the richest Americans would have much of an effect on small-business hiring, which is a claim that Republicans make with some regularity. Why? Because of the taxpayers that report running small businesses on their taxes, only 2 percent fall into the top two income brackets.* The other 98 percent of small-business owners make less than $250,000 a year and wouldn't pay higher taxes under Obama's plan.

History isn't on the GOP's side, either. If keeping the top marginal tax rate at 35 percent—the rate under Bush, and the rate that Republicans are fighting to preserve—spurs so much hiring, why didn't America experience any job growth at all during Bush's time in office? And if a top marginal tax rate of 39.6 percent—the rate under Bill Clinton, and the rate that Democrats are fighting to restore—is such a job killer, why did payrolls grow by 20 percent during the 1990s?

The implication here isn't that higher tax rates equal more jobs. Far from it. But there's simply no evidence, either in the history books or the latest projections, to suggest that extending all of the Bush tax cuts would provide an employment boost large enough to offset the number of jobs that would've been lost if the GOP had succeeded in blocking the stimulus—let alone lasting enough to justify adding another $700 billion to the deficit.  

The bottom line, then, is that recent GOP proposals would produce fewer jobs and far larger deficits than the plans Obama has already passed or currently wants to pass. This isn't to say that the Republicans couldn't create jobs or cut the deficit if restored to power—just that right now, they've chosen to support policies that would prove less effective in both respects than the Democratic programs they so vehemently criticize.

On the trail, it's easy to talk about cutting pork, slashing taxes, and reducing "uncertainty." But if the party wants to provide voters with real alternatives on jobs and deficits, they should start talking about the sort of deep spending cuts and targeted tax incentives that might actually make a difference someday: reforming Medicare and Social Security, cutting defense spending, reducing payroll taxes, and creating tax credits for job creation. Otherwise, they're worse than what we have now.

* Due to an editing error, this sentence originally stated that "only 2 percent of taxpayers in the top two income brackets actually run small businesses." It has been corrected for accuracy. Thanks to commentor Brian for pointing out the mistake.

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