Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week kept his caucus united and killed a popular jobs bill during a jobs crisis. The plan — 400,000 jobs for teachers, police officers, and firefighters, paid for with a 0.5% surtax on millionaires and billionaires — was wildly popular with the public, but McConnell and his Senate Republicans killed it anyway.
Sunday on CNN, Candy Crowley asked him why. The GOP leader replied:
“Well, Candy, I’m sure that Americans do, I certainly do approve of firefighters and police. The question is whether the federal government ought to be raising taxes on 300,000 small businesses in order to send money down to bail out states for whom firefighters and police work. They are local and state employees.
“Look, we have a debt the size of our economy. That alone makes us look a lot like Greece. The question is whether the federal government can afford to be bailing out states. I think the answer is no. … Look, we are not going to get this economy going by continuing to shower money on the public sector.”
By way of a fact-check, let’s note a couple of the glaring errors here. The first is that the financing relied on a small tax increase on millionaires and billionaires, not small businesses. The number of businesses affected is ridiculously small, making McConnell’s claim patently dishonest. The second is that anyone who compares America’s debt issues to Greece’s is a fool.
But the larger issue here is McConnell’s entire approach to government. Jobs for teachers and first responders, in his mind, are (a) a “local” problem, and (b) related to the public sector. They’re ultimately two sides of the same coin — McConnell cares first about ideology, not problemsolving.
It’s true that the vast majority of teachers, cops, and firefighters are hired by state and local governments, but here’s the thing: state and local governments can’t afford these jobs right now, and they can’t afford to take on debt to keep these hundreds of thousands of workers providing an extremely important public service. The federal government can afford to keep these Americans on the job, can afford to take on additional debt at practically no additional cost, and simply has to choose to do so.
McConnell is offering a philosophical response to a practical problem. The right simply cannot fathom a pragmatic approach to governing. Democrats see a jobs crisis, want to save hundreds of thousands of jobs, craft a plan that works, and find a straightforward way to pay for it. Republicans see a jobs crisis and ask, “Are those public-sector jobs? What does our ideology tell us about aid to states? Unemployment, schlumemploymet — how does this affect the size of government?”
The GOP line doesn’t address the underlying problem because, as McConnell explained Sunday, Republicans don’t care about the underlying problem. What matters is the integrity of conservative ideology, not keeping teachers and cops on the job.
Notice, McConnell didn’t say the Democratic jobs bill would be ineffective. He knows — everyone knows — the measure would keep those Americans working, which would not only help the workers and their families, but also the local economies and those who benefit from their services. But for the Senate Minority Leader, whether the legislation would be effective or not is irrelevant.
Bringing down unemployment isn’t McConnell’s priority. Winning a philosophical argument is.
Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. This column appeared Monday on the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal, where Benen is chief blogger.