Politics & Policy

Liberate the Jobs!

John Berlau, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, and others on Boehner’s jobs speech.

At the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon, John Boehner explained his jobs-policy vision. National Review Online gathered economic-policy experts to respond.

JOHN BERLAU

The most fascinating aspect of House Speaker John Boehner’s very effective address to the Economic Club was not the specific solutions he presented but the order in which he presented them.

#ad#If this speech had been given just a month ago by Boehner or another GOP leader, taxes and spending would have dominated the talk, and overregulation, if brought up at all, would have been an afterthought. But since coming back from Labor Day, the regulatory state has moved to the front burner for Republicans. “Job creation in America is facing what I would call a triple threat from government; the first [emphasis added] aspect of this threat is excessive regulation,” Boehner said.

And today in Boehner’s speech, overregulation was first — from the opening that brought up the National Labor Relations Board’s blocking Boeing’s plant in right-to-work South Carolina, to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s raid of the Gibson guitar factory in Tennessee, to the speech’s title of “Liberating America’s Economy.” That title is similar to one of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s main themes of the past two and a half years: “Liberate to Stimulate.”

Two things have propelled regulation to the top of the GOP agenda. One is the simply outrageous abuses of the regulatory state such as the Gibson raid and the NLRB’s many unprecedented actions.

The other is recent polling data that shows that while spending and taxes are important base issues — as well as issues important to the future of our country — overregulation resonates much more with independents and even sometimes Democrats. A recent Public Notice poll found that 74 percent of independents and 58 percent of Democrats think businesses and consumers are overregulated.

The GOP — and to some extent President Obama — finally seems to be getting that overregulation is a kitchen-table issue that hits home. From shelling out ten times more for light bulbs due to environmental mandates to losing free checking and debit-card rewards due to Dodd-Frank price controls, Americans are paying dearly for overregulation. Connecting overregulation to jobs and the cost of living is a winning strategy.

— John Berlau is director of the Center for Investors and Entrepreneurs at the Competitive Enterprise Institute

VERONIQUE DE RUGY

Overall, Speaker Boehner’s speech sounded good. First and foremost, he acknowledged that government can’t create jobs and that, in fact, government is a threat to job creation. To that effect, he rightfully noted that the current tax code and Washington’s spending binge are both designed to cater to special interests, and as result discourage investment and job creation.

His proposal for job creation is for Washington to get out of the way. He promises to cut spending, reform entitlements, and engage in broad-based tax reform by lowering rates for individuals and corporations while eliminating deductions, credits, and carveouts in our tax code. More important, he reassures the American people that “there will be no shutdown of the federal government, and we aren’t willing to default on our debt. The United States will meet its obligations to its citizens and to its creditors.” 

Boehner wants to go farther and lift uncertainty by permanently tying Congress’ hands: He wants those spending caps set in stone and a balanced-budget amendment. 

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Boehner also expressed his intention to tackle regulatory reform. For instance, he urged the White House to halt the implementation of regulatory actions in the works by the federal bureaucracy; to pass the REINS Act, which would require congressional review for any new regulation that has a major impact on economy; and to repeal the “3 percent withholding rule,” which serves as an effective tax increase on those who do business with the government.

Interestingly, the Speaker has a weird infatuation for American-made energy. That sounds like protectionism to me, though it may just be politics, and it can certainly open the door to government policies directed at picking winners and losers. As Washington is awakening to the scope of the Solyndra scandal, we must be wary of any such proposals. 

#ad#Finally, in light of the last ten years, I hope you will allow me a serious dose of skepticism. It’s not that the whole thing (with the exception of the protectionist part) doesn’t sound good to me; it’s just that we must apply the same call for results and action, once more, to the promises of a politician.

— Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

TAD DEHAVEN

The gist of Speaker Boehner’s speech before the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., was standard fare: The federal government spends, taxes, and regulates too much. He’ll get no argument here. Boehner is correct that the private sector has been “slammed by uncertainty from the constant threat of new taxes, out-of-control spending, and unnecessary regulation from a government that is always micromanaging, meddling, and manipulating.”

Can Boehner and his fellow Republicans in the House do anything about it? Not much, with Harry Reid leading the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House. As the debate over raising the debt ceiling demonstrated, neither side is willing to compromise on core policy positions with November 2012 on the horizon. That leads to a bigger question: What would Boehner & co. do to rein in our “micromanaging, meddling, and manipulating” federal government if Republicans got control of the Senate and the White House?

The excesses of the Obama administration would hopefully be rolled back. Beyond that, it’s hard to get too excited — given that Republican rule of both branches in the 2000s resulted in a major increase in the size of government. Indeed, Boehner said that he considers the abominable No Child Left Behind Act to be his “proudest achievement.” Therefore, more specifics from the speaker on what government programs and interventions he’d like to eliminate would be welcome.

— Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst on federal and state budget issues for the Cato Institute.

PETER FERRARA

Boehner has it mostly right. House Republicans should scrap President Obama’s failed jobs plan, including the “temporary” payroll tax cuts, which are designed to permanently replace the payroll taxes that finance Social Security with general revenue taxes on capital and the most productive. Instead, Republicans should act now to pass what will work.

That means that Boehner and congressional Republicans should not get drawn into meaningless, counterproductive negotiations with President Obama, who is clueless about real economics and completely focused on political posturing.

Boehner is right that the first priority is individual- and corporate-tax reform. The tax reforms in the Ryan budget are close to the reforms proposed by Simpson-Bowles. The House should start action now to pass some compromise between the two. There are even enough Senate Democrats who support those Simpson-Bowles reforms to get such a compromise through the Senate.

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Negotiations with a few reasonable Senate Democrats (not the leadership) instead of negotiations with Obama would be desirable. That is how the debt-limit impasse was finally solved. If necessary, Senate Republicans should support replacing Reid with one of these more reasonable Democrats.

Boehner is also on the right track in moving House action immediately to stop Obama’s regulatory job-killing atrocities. The independent media also has a responsibility in this battle for American survival to give more attention to what the House has done and is doing, and contrasting that with the AWOL Democratic Senate, which hasn’t even passed a budget for years now, contrary to law.

— Peter Ferrara is director of entitlement and budget policy for the Heartland Institute, a senior fellow for the Carleson Center for Public Policy, and author of America’s Ticking Bankruptcy Bomb.

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DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN

Speaker of the House John Boehner gave an important address to the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., today. The speech has a lot of potential newsmakers. The press will probably most immediately focus on the criticism of the president: “The president’s proposals are a poor substitute for the pro-growth policies that are needed to remove barriers to job creation in America.”

Others will focus on the specific policies that the speaker highlights. First, the need for more sensible and efficient regulation and the REINS Act’s promise to reach this goal. Second, the need for tax reform. And finally, the pro-growth benefits of getting debt and spending under control. All are absolutely on the mark, as a continuation of the status quo — government-centric policies, broken entitlement programs, anti-growth redistributionist philosophies, and anti-competitive tax and regulatory schemes — are dangerous to America.

But there is another contrast as well. Instead of the president’s hifalutin, multiplier-driven economic abstractions, a real person was present at the Economic Club talking in a commonsense tone and from a small-business perspective. As former Council of Economic Advisers chairman Michael Boskin put it:

Speaker Boehner’s remarks are a refreshing dose of common sense, based on sound economic principles, from someone who obviously knows from personal experience how to create jobs and run a business. That’s in very short supply in Washington. Americans will be a lot better off when his views on regulation, taxes, spending and debt are fully implemented in all areas of government policy.

I agree.

But my favorite is the Atlas Shrugged moment: “Job creators in America are essentially on strike.” And for good reason. America was founded on the promise of freedom, and Americans reflexively defend their freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and political freedoms. But a central feature of American greatness is economic freedom. It is dangerous to trade away economic freedoms through mandates, regulations, and the dead weight of excessive spending and taxes. There is a siren song in the liberal elite that argues America will be better off even if Americans are less free.

Wrong. Freedom is the route to prosperity. Speaker Boehner’s call to liberate job creators and restore economic freedoms should be music to Americans’ ears.

— Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was the director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2003 to 2005, is the president of the American Action Forum, a policy institute.

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GROVER NORQUIST

Speaker Boehner demonstrated in his luncheon speech to the Economic Club why Obama is in trouble.

Boehner was low-key and soft-spoken, and took no real swipes at the president. He simply said that there would not be tax increases. There would be real spending restraint. Boehner is willing to work in a bipartisan, cheerful manner to cut spending and not increase taxes. Boehner answered David Rubenstein’s questions as to whether allowing the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to lapse would be a tax increase with a simple “yes.” Boehner said that spending other people’s money does not create jobs.

#ad#He talked about keeping the Republican caucus together. Discussed his large family — one of eleven or so. His working his way through school. Life as a small-business man. Mowing his own lawn.

The speech was not written to elicit applause, but the audience of several hundred did insist on interrupting several times to highlight Boehner’s focus on the damage that uncertainty and over-regulations are doing to the American economy.

No jokes. No memorable lines. No threats, histrionics. No drama. No crowing about Obama’s lousy poll numbers or the crushing victories in New York and Nevada just two days before. This is a man who is not going to overreact or create fodder for late-night comedians. He manfully refrained from mentioning that he had the best tan in the room.

Slow and steady wins the race.

— Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

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