How to keep the `super-committee’ honest on jobs

Senator Jeff Merkley is worried. He fears that it’s increasingly unlikely that the Congressional deficit “super-committee” will make a serious effort to incorporate job creation into its mission. Worse, he worries that some of its deficit-cutting proposals could actually do further harm to the economy.

Senator Merkley has an idea on what to do about this. He is calling on both parties to agree to submit every proposal offered by the supercommittee to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, to be evaluated for the impact it will have — on jobs.

He doesn’t want the CBO to evaluate the proposals just for their budgetary impact. Rather, he wants the CBO to reach a conclusion on the impact the proposals will have on unemployment, whether positive, negative, or neutral.

“We need to have every proposal that the super-committee brings out to have it scored by its jobs impact,” Merkley told me in an interview this morning. He plans to urge Democratic and GOP leaders to agree to this standard, and hopes to build a campaign to make it happen.

There’s precedent for the CBO scoring proposals for jobs impact. You can find examples of that here, here, and here. AS Merkley notes, Congress normally submits proposals for budgetary impact but Congress can request jobs impact evaluations.

Merkley hopes this move would encourage the supercommittee — and the rest of us — to view the supercommittee’s work through the lens of job creation. At best it could create an incentive for the “supercommittee” to incorporate a meaningful push for jobs creation into its mission. But, barring that, this could also alert us when its proposals risk causing further job loss, which in theory would dissuade committee members from adopting such proposals or at least keep the public in the loop on what’s happening

“We need to have a `no-harm’ standard,” Merkley says. “At a minimum, people on both sides of the aisle should be able to agree that the proposals do no harm to jobs.”

“This will keep their feet to the fire and avoid a situation where their plan drives us into a deep recession or a depression,” Merkley continues. “We must not repeat the mistakes of Europe, where austerity has driven the economy further into the ditch rather than pulling it out.”

Merkley allowed that Republicans who insist spending cuts are the only way to help the economy would be unlikely to agree to this standard. But he said Democrats must insist on it, anyway. “I want to make sure Democrats do not go along with Republicans to support proposals that do harm to our economy,” he said.

It’s an interesting idea. Any takers?

UPDATE: Merkley spokesperson Julie Edwards explains his proposal further:

An individual member can ask CBO for analysis on legislation. However, CBO does not have to handle those requests within certain timeframes or as a priority in the same way they will score the revenue impact of this bill. That is why the expectation of a job impact analysis and requirement of such should be there from the beginning as part of the Committee’s mandate — to make sure we get this information in a timely fashion for all members to analyze prior to voting on recommendations.

The broader point is — jobs, real world jobs, need to be part of this conversation. What Merkley is proposing provides a framework to do that.