Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a message for Americans reveling in a spate of encouraging news on jobs, gas prices, economic growth, and insurance coverage: You’re welcome.
“After so many years of sluggish growth, we’re finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope,” McConnell said in a floor speech on Wednesday. “The uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress.”
After years of being pilloried by Republicans over the state of the economy, Democrats took notice of McConnell’s suggestion that the mere election of a GOP Senate deserved some of the credit for recent momentum.
“Hahahahahahahahahahaha,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee told reporters in a statement.
Elleithee continued, “The fact is, under President Obama we’ve had 57 straight months of private sector job growth leading to nearly 11 million jobs added. All Republicans have given us is a government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion. I get why he wants to take credit for the economic recovery. But maybe he should first do something to help contribute to it.”
The brightest silver lining to losing the White House is that the party out of power can tie whatever ails the world to the winner — whether or not there’s much of an actual connection. This tendency to associate all bad news with the administration is the basis of the long-running “Thanks, Obama” meme, but it could apply to just about any president.
Following this script, GOP messaging for years has sprung from the premise that the economy was weak and Obama was to blame. But with the unemployment rate sinking and GDP rising — and Americans taking note — Republicans are grappling with whether and how to readjust their platform to acknowledge the change.
McConnell offered one possibility by simply suggesting the turnaround is due to enthusiasm over the midterms. But even a cursory look at the timing shows it doesn’t add up. While the Kentucky senator didn’t identify which indicators he was looking at, job growth has been slow and steady rather than explosive. A recent report that the GDP grew 5.0% applied to the period from July through September.
The biggest reason that McConnell’s nascent claim to bragging rights is a tough sell, however, is that he and top Republicans spent the last six years warning that, thanks to Obama’s “job killing health care law” and other policies, the current recovery would never happen.
McConnell himself played an important role in this strategy, making sure Republicans stood united against Obama’s agenda in order to heighten the distinction between the parties and ensure the GOP was not burdened with ownership of the economy. As a result, there’s a long trail of spooky predictions about the coming American dystopia that are looking less than stellar.
During the 2012 election, for example, Mitt Romney claimed that Americans needed to vote for him because only his free market approach would bring the employment rate down to 6% by the end of 2016.
“I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we’d put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6%, and perhaps a little lower,” Romney told Time magazine in May of 2012.
As it turns out, the unemployment rate is now 5.8% more than two years ahead of Romney’s schedule. Romney also blamed Obama for high gas prices, which have since plummeted despite the president’s failure to follow the Republican nominee’s prescription of deregulation and fast tracking the Keystone XL pipeline.
As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait noted, Republican leaders including Speaker John Boehner returned to the same playbook after Romney lost by warning that the president would wreck the economy by raising taxes on the rich. Then, in 2014, it was environmental rules for power plants that Boehner, McConnell, and other Republicans said would derail the recovery. While Republicans are hardly claiming credit for recent gains on health care, all evidence suggests the law has been responsible for a rapid plunge in the number of uninsured Americans, pushing aside GOP predictions that it could prove a net negative for coverage.
In general, presidents tend to absorb more blame for lousy economies and more credit for booming ones than they deserve. Myriad factors outside their control determine job growth, gas prices, and wages. But these are the rules Republicans chose to play by and they apply as much going up as going down.
Despite Wednesday’s speech, McConnell hasn’t entirely quit the “Obama’s America” arguments.
“We need to do everything we can to try to rein in the regulatory onslaught, which is the principal reason that we haven’t had the kind of bounce-back after the 2008 recession that you would expect,” McConnell said on CNN Sunday.
It’s unlikely you’ll see too much deviation from the old ways. As Republicans and Democrats have pointed out, though the economy is improving, there are still major shortcomings, such as stagnant wage growth. Maybe they’ll come up with some policies to address these lingering concerns. Whatever the approach, when it comes to claiming credit for the latest news, the train left the station a long time ago.