A House Judiciary Committee hearing last week spoke volumes about what Americans have come to expect out of Congress. While Senate Democrats worked on extending unemployment benefits, 12 Republican men championed
a bill called the "No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion," which seeks to prevent middle-class consumers from receiving health care subsidies if their plans include abortion coverage.
It seemed like another pointless culture-war fight on a proposal that won't become law anytime soon. After all, shouldn't GOP lawmakers at least pretend to be focused on jobs instead of one more anti-abortion push that will inevitably fail?
By Republicans' reasoning, they are. Yesterday, the men on the House Judiciary Committee readied the "No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion" for floor action, and Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said this is a jobs bill.
It is "very, very true," the congressman said, "that having a growing population and having new children brought into the world is not harmful to job creation. It very much promotes job creation for all the care and services and so on that need to be provided by a lot of people to raise children."
In reality, denying women autonomy over their reproductive lives is not a wise economic policy. Without access to affordable family planning services, women are less likely to be able to finish their education, advance their career, or achieve financial independence. The low-income women who end up carrying unwanted pregnancies to term end up slipping deeper into poverty and struggling with long-term mental health issues. That ends up impacting the social safety net, putting a greater strain on the Medicaid program. In fact, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that every $1 invested into family planning programs yields more than $5 in savings for the U.S. government.
Stepping back, though, Goodlatte's assertion that his latest anti-abortion bill "promotes job creation" raises a larger question: when congressional Republicans talk about their support for "jobs bills," what exactly do they mean?
Consider House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) bizarre efforts
yesterday to spin his party's opposition to extended unemployment benefits.
"Unfortunately, instead of helping to create jobs, the president is focused on making it easier to live without one," Boehner said on the House floor. "The House is focused on making it easier to find a job. Our focus is on ending this new normal, improving employment, not unemployment." Obama has said he wants 2014 to be a "year of action" on jobs, a proposal Boehner welcomed. "Sounds good to me," he said. "He can start by calling on the leaders over in the Senate to pass our jobs bills."
As a matter of rudimentary public policy, the Speaker's rhetoric is deeply strange. He knows the expiration of jobless aid will, according to estimates from both parties, cost the U.S. economy between 200,000 and 300,000 jobs just this year. If job creation was a genuine Republican priority, passing an extension would be a no-brainer. Why hurt the economy on purpose?
But for Boehner, the best course of action is to cut off those struggling most, while asking the Senate to pass the "jobs bills" already approved by the House.
What "jobs bills"? As it turns out, Boehner has decided
that every time House Republicans pass a bill that advances House Republican priorities, the party gets to label that a "jobs bill." The GOP approved more oil drilling? That's a "jobs bill." The GOP voted to take away health care benefits from millions of Americans? That's a "jobs bill," too. The GOP disapproves of clean-air regulations? "Jobs bill." The GOP wants more "transparency" in federal spending? "Jobs bill." Republicans cut food stamps? "Jobs bill."
I'm not exaggerating in the slightest; this is all from the list
of "jobs bills" the Speaker of the House has pulled together and presented to the public
. How many actual jobs would be created if these bills became law? No one knows because Republicans never submitted them for independent economic scrutiny, but GOP leaders are confident the answer is, at a minimum, some.
It's why the parties so often seem to be talking past one another. For congressional Democrats, jobs bills have to relate to job creation in a meaningful way, then be scored by independent economists to determine how many jobs are likely to be created by the proposed legislation. For congressional Republicans, jobs bills happen to be whatever bills the GOP likes -- even anti-abortion bills.