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Decision time, GOP

Following President Obama’s jobs speech, Republicans find themselves in a quandary. Voters tasked them with governing in the 2010 elections, but they’d rather continue focusing on undermining the nation’s economy and Obama’s reelection chances. 

Voters have tired of GOP intransigence. While Obama faces his own difficult poll numbers, the GOP-led Congress has plumbed new depths of unpopularity. 

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A CNN poll in August found that just 41 percent of respondents wanted their member of Congress reelected — the first time ever in their polling that figure had dropped below 50 percent. “That 41 percent, in the polling world, is an amazing figure. Throughout the past two decades, in good times and bad, Americans have always liked their own member of Congress despite abysmal ratings for Congress in general,” said CNN polling director Keating Holland. “Now anti-
incumbent sentiment is so strong that most Americans are no longer willing to give their own representative the benefit of the doubt. “

CNN wasn’t the only outfit to find an angry electorate. So did Gallup: “About one in five U.S. registered voters (21 percent) say most members of Congress deserve reelection, the lowest percentage Gallup has found in the 20-year history of asking this question.” GOP efforts might’ve successfully dragged down Obama’s numbers, but at the cost of a potential third wave election in a row. If Republicans can’t turn those numbers around, Nancy Pelosi will get her gavel back. 

Perhaps that explains the GOP’s newfound spirit of cooperation. After the speech, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) magnanimously proclaimed, “The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration.” Republicans need to at least pretend they are interested in governing. And while some may pride themselves on delivering zero for their constituents, fact is, pork helps incumbents get reelected. A jobs bill with billions in infrastructure spending can translate into plenty of ribbon cuttings and giant cardboard checks. 

On the other hand, the president’s bill might actually create jobs. “The biggest drag next year under current federal policy comes from the scheduled expiration of two stimulus measures at the end of 2011: the current 2 percent employee payroll tax holiday and the emergency unemployment insurance program,” wrote Moody’s analyst Mark Zandi. “Not extending the programs will shave 0.9 percentage point off 2012 real GDP growth and cost the economy some 750,000 jobs. The end of other fiscal stimulus measures enacted in 2009 will further reduce economic growth.”

If the president’s measure passes, Zandi writes, “the Obama jobs plan would increase real GDP growth in 2012 by 2 percentage points, add 1.9 million jobs, and reduce the unemployment rate by a full percentage point, compared with current fiscal policy.”

Republicans know that Obama will get most of the credit for any economic success. Yet if they help pass the jobs bill, they’ll share the blame if it fails. It’s the reason Republicans have refused to play ball since Obama was elected. “Obama is on the ropes; why do we appear ready to hand him a win?” a GOP aide said to another D.C. publication. “I just don’t want to co-own the economy by having to tout that we passed a jobs bill that won’t work or at least won’t do enough.”

Sounds good, except that they have to tout something to earn votes back home. It’s up to the GOP to decide whether it’s more of the same obstructionism, or action that might help the president’s reelection campaign — no matter how many jobs it might save and create.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)