I’d like to thank White House Press Secretary Jay Carney for giving me so much material to work with in his press briefing today.

MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s a lot in your question, so let me go first to the broader fact, which is that we have seen consistent job growth over almost three years.

Nope. Job growth began in March 2010 and was strong for March, April, and May. We then lost net jobs for four months. We have had continuous job growth since October 2010. That is two and a quarter years, which is not “almost three.” (Source: BLS)

If you start measuring in March 2010, job growth has averaged +141K/month. If you start measuring in October 2010, job growth has averaged +153K/month. If we were at full employment those numbers would be fine because you need around +125-150K/month to keep up with population growth. Given continued high unemployment those numbers fall far short of the job growth rate we need to return rapidly to full employment. We’re generally doing a bit better than treading water, but not much.

MR. CARNEY: But there’s more work to do and our economy is facing a major headwind, which goes to your point, and that’s Republicans in Congress.

This is an aggressive and, I think, novel presentation—labeling Congressional Republicans as an economic headwind. Those same Republicans should respond aggressively to this particular language.

MR. CARNEY: Talk about letting the sequester kick in as though that were an acceptable thing belies where Republicans were on this issue not that long ago, and it makes clear again that this is sort of political brinksmanship of the kind that results in one primary victim, and that’s American taxpayers, the American middle class.

You’re correct that the GDP number we saw today was driven in part by — in large part by a sharp decrease in defense spending, the sharpest drop since I think 1972.  And at least some of that has to do with the uncertainty created by the prospect of sequester.

To the end of your question, I would say that the President has had and continues to have very detailed proposals, including spending cuts, that would completely do away with the sequester if enacted, that approaches deficit reduction — not just the $1.2 trillion called for by the sequester, but even beyond that  — in a balanced way.

His logic is:

  • The sharp decline in Q4 defense spending was in large part responsible for today’s bad (-0.1%) Q4 GDP growth number;
  • The President wants to replace the sequester cuts with a “balanced” package of tax increases and other spending cuts;
  • Republicans oppose the President’s reasonable “balanced” alternative;
  • A recent shift suggests that Congressional Republicans appear to favor leaving the upcoming sequester in place;
  • Therefore the bad Q4 GDP number is because Congressional Republicans refused the President’s reasonable alternative and may be willing now to leave the upcoming sequester in effect.

Problem #1 with this logic is that the President’s proposal would be deficit neutral, so any increase in discretionary spending that helped short-term economic growth would be mostly offset by cuts in other government spending and increases in taxes. If you buy the logic of yanking hard on the Keynesian short-term fiscal lever (big if) then your proposal needs to increase the deficit to get any first order GDP kick. So the tax-increasing solution Republicans are rejecting wouldn’t help GDP growth, it would just shift the components around so that government spending grew faster and private consumption and investment grew more slowly.

Problem #2 is that his sequence doesn’t work. Mr. Carney implies that last quarter’s GDP was harmed by Congressional Republicans’ movement in the past two weeks toward allowing the sequester to take effect. That puts the effect before the cause, which is hard to do.

MR. CARNEY: So it can’t be we’ll let sequester kick in because we insist that tax loopholes remain where they are for corporate jet owners, or subsidies provided to the oil and gas companies that have done so exceedingly well in recent years have to remain in place.  That’s just — that’s not I think a position that will earn a lot of support with the American people.

The words “DEMAGOGUE ALERT” should flash any time you hear the ol’ corporate jet tax break. Eliminating it would raise a few billion dollars of revenue compared to spending problems measured in trillions.

Still, Republicans should find a way to propose repealing this tax break and using the revenue to lower some other tax in a way that both parties like. Neutralize the stupid talking point by getting rid of this tax preference, but don’t use the revenue raised to increase government spending. Don’t wait for tax reform, get rid of this one quickly in the right way.

MR. CARNEY: Speaker of the House Boehner put forward, in theory, at least, a proposal late last year that said he could find $800 billion in revenues through tax reform alone — closing of loopholes and capping of deductions.  So surely what was a good idea then can’t suddenly be a bad idea now.

Did he forget about the $617 B of tax increases that were just enacted? No. This is another important rhetorical trick – suggesting that the previously offered +$800B and the recently enacted +$617B are additive rather than duplicative. I’m certain that’s not how Congressional Republicans think of it. Watch for this rhetorical trick to be repeated often.

MR. CARNEY: The President put forward a proposal to the super committee that reflected the balance that was inherent in every serious bipartisan proposal, including the Simpson-Bowles proposal.  A refusal at the time to allow revenue to be a part of that meant that the super committee did not produce.

Congressional Republicans told me at the time that the Administration was nowhere to be found during the Super Committee’s failed attempts in the fall of 2011.  “Completely disengaged – absent,” was how one insider described the Administration.

Republicans on the Super Committee offered to their Democratic colleagues to accept higher revenue in exchange for either significant entitlement reforms or pro-growth tax reform. Mr. Carney’s claim that Republicans “refus[ed] at the time to allow revenue to be part of that” is inaccurate.

There’s more, but that’s enough for today.

(photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)