Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats have dropped the word "stimulus" from their vocabulary.
Though the House minority leader and her caucus are still pushing an economic stimulus agenda to save the economy, they’ve radically changed their rhetoric with the hope of winning over voters who saw "stimulus" as close to a dirty word.
Indeed, with President Obama scheduled Thursday to lay out his job-creation plans before a joint session of Congress, liberal Democrats and left-leaning policy groups are pressuring him to ignore short-term deficit spending concerns in favor of sweeping spending initiatives designed to boost hiring.
The Democrats’ signature “Make it in America” platform aims to create jobs by increasing infrastructure spending, providing financial help to struggling states and expanding tax credits for businesses, all of which were key elements of their 2009 economic stimulus bill.
Recognizing the unpopularity of the 2009 package, however, Democratic leaders have revised their message with less loaded language – “job creation” instead of “stimulus” and “Make it in America” in lieu of “Recovery Act” – in hopes of tackling the jobs crisis.
That’s a sharp shift from last year’s messaging strategy, when Pelosi issued hundreds of press releases touting the benefits of the 2009 stimulus bill in hopes of making believers of skeptical voters.
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In the four months prior to last November’s elections alone, Pelosi’s office released more than 80 “fact sheets” highlighting media reports about local projects the stimulus law was supporting.
In December, that practice abruptly stopped, with good reason.
Not only had Democrats been trounced at the polls a month earlier, but also public sentiment had made “stimulus” a radioactive word and “shovel-ready” a running national joke.
Republicans made it a central campaign-trail strategy to demonize deficit spending, a message still reverberating today.
Key to “Make it in America” are provisions to launch a national infrastructure bank, which could cost $25 billion; a proposal to increase a research and development tax credit for businesses ($100 billion); and a bill to extend tax-credits and loan guarantee programs to states and local governments (between $10 billion and $11 billion). The provisions are not offset with budget changes elsewhere.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who introduced legislation last week to pump billions of dollars into projects for local communities, summarized the Democrats' strategy.
“Economic growth, not austerity, will rescue the American economy,” Miller, a close ally of Pelosi’s and the senior Democrat on the Education and Workforce Committee, said in a statement.
“We have tried shrinking the economy and sowing economic uncertainty for 8 months now, and it has failed. It's time for job creation and economic growth as our first order of business to strengthen our middle class.”
Adding to the urgency, the Department of Labor reported Friday that the economy added no jobs in August, a dismal report falling well below expectations that 75,000 jobs would be created. The news prompted Democratic leaders to double down on their calls for new stimulus spending.
“Democrats have placed plan after plan on the table to add jobs now, to support small business hiring, and strengthen our economy,” Pelosi said Friday in a statement. “We must pass our ‘Make It In America’ initiative to strengthen our manufacturers and small businesses, and invest in rebuilding America's roads, bridges, rail lines, schools, and airports.”
Meanwhile, Republicans have continued to pounce on the stimulus concept, with GOP leaders hammering the strategy as a tested failure.
“Private-sector job growth continues to be undermined by the triple threat of higher taxes, more failed ‘stimulus’ spending, and excessive federal regulations,” Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerFreedom Caucus leader: Despite changes, healthcare bill doesn't have the votes Debt ceiling returns, creating new headache for GOP Letters: Congress, raise the debt limit now MORE (R-Ohio) said Friday in a statement. “Together, these Washington policies have created a fog of uncertainty that’s left small businesses unable to hire and American families worried about the future.”
Adding to the Democrats’ messaging woes, White House economic advisers Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein predicted that the stimulus bill — even before its passage — would keep unemployment below 8 percent. Ten months later it hit 10.1 percent, and today stands at 9.1 percent. Some Democrats have slammed the administration's predictions as creating false hopes.
“If you asked them now they will say that was the stupidest thing that basically any administration probably ever said because that's not something they can necessarily control,” Rep. John YarmuthJohn YarmuthDems wonder: Can GOP even pass a budget? Pelosi: Trump budget a ‘slap in the face’ ObamaCare showdown set in Budget Committee MORE (D-Ky.) said last week.
Both Romer and Bernstein have since moved on.
The Democrats have faced other obstacles in selling their stimulus strategy. Republicans, for instance, have simply ignored estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that, without the 2009 law, as many as 2.9 million more Americans would be out of work today.
Critics have also frequently glossed over what the stimulus bill contained, focusing on the $412 billion in infrastructure, education and safety-net spending while ignoring the $299 billion in tax benefits. Indeed, some GOP leaders have claimed recently that the stimulus bill contained tax hikes.
“If we’ve learned anything from the federal ‘stimulus,’ it’s that government can’t tax, spend, and regulate its way to prosperity,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said earlier this month, delivering the Republicans' weekly radio address.
“Government shouldn't be making promises it can't keep.”
This story was updated at 1:05 p.m.