EDITORIAL: It’s about jobs

Ever since congressional Republicans hijacked the national debate about the state of the U.S. economy and misdirected it toward reducing the federal deficit, millions of Americans — those still working as well as those unemployed and under­employed — have been trying to figure out why Congress doesn’t seem to understand that the nation’s No. 1 priority right now has to be job creation. Poll after poll has shown that voters are more concerned about getting, or keeping, a job than they are about whether future generations of Americans are going to be weighted down by federal debt.

So it’s refreshing to learn that at least one member of Congress, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, “gets it.” Merkley is pushing the unusual idea of having the independent and nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office “score” every proposal coming out of the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction for its impact on jobs — specifically, whether a proposal adds jobs, kills jobs or has no effect on job creation and unemployment. The plan is, as the so-called “supercommittee” comes up with ideas for helping trim the federal deficit down the road, the CBO analysis would let members know if each idea would help rebuild the economy or make matters worse.

Republicans, who make up half the supercommittee, aren’t expected to like the idea. That’s because their party’s focus has been and continues to be reducing the size of the federal government, albeit under the transparent guise of not wanting to burden future generations with an enormous federal debt. And most of the GOP ideas for reducing the federal deficit have to do with cutting government costs, and thus jobs, in both the public and private sectors.

Another sign that Republicans won’t like Merkley’s proposal is that labor and progressive groups already have weighed in on the idea, applauding the Oregon senator’s efforts.

The AFL-CIO called it a “common sense initiative.” The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said it “embraces” the idea and urged “no more gamesmanship that leaves struggling families out in the cold yet again.” And MoveOn.org called the proposal “responsible,” adding, “It’s imperative that the supercommittee’s proposal is not a job-killer.”

The day after the membership of the supercommittee was announced on Aug. 10, Merkley and 22 other Democratic senators wrote a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., asking that he urge his three appointees to the committee to put jobs first. They noted that unemployed Americans are a “major component of our deficit,” accounting for an estimated revenue loss of nearly $4 trillion over the next decade.

The supercommittee is charged with issuing a recommendation by Thanksgiving for at least $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction steps to be undertaken over the next 10 years. In an interview with The Washington Post, Merkley urged the committee to adopt a “no-harm” standard in its deliberations.

“We must not repeat the mistakes of Europe,” he said, “where austerity has driven the economy further into the ditch rather than pulling it out.”

He’s right. And the hope is, whether or not the supercommittee adopts his proposal, that job creation — or loss — will at least become part of its discussions.