Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer some insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

Which issue will be more important to voters in 2010 -- the deficit or jobs?


John Castellani,
president of Business Roundtable, said:

This is not an either-or situation but rather one that requires a yes-and approach. My organization’s top priority is to push for policies that will create more and better-paying jobs for U.S. workers. At the same time, it’s clear that the large deficits forecast over the next few years are simply unsustainable over the long-term. In short, we must find a way to create more jobs that will support today’s workforce, but not at the expense of laying untenable debt obligations and sky-high inflation at the feet of future generations.

One effective approach to this challenge is to create more competitive international tax policies and increase our nation’s international trade and investment. The Administration’s decision this week to actively participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is an encouraging sign that our President understands that expanding trade is a fundamental (and deficit-free) way to create well-paying U.S. jobs. In fact, it is one of the only approaches that would cost our country almost nothing while supporting the fragile recovery and, most importantly, promoting job growth.

Bernie Quigley, Pundits blog contributor, said:

Deficits and a new approach. The Virginia race set the new paradigm. The conservative Bob McDonald won by 17%. This is an astonishing change of political culture. Jobs are important but the country - the heartland - sees and understands that we are not a country of factory workers and field hands as we were in the 1830s and it is incongruous to use these strategies with the kind of work force we have today. The Virginia governor's race in 2008 was prelude to 2010. 2010 will be prelude to 2012.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said:

Where I come from, jobs.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said:

I just did some town hall meetings in Nebraska, and I do these all the time. I can tell you, it's jobs, economy and deficit -- all these things.

Healthcare's getting a lot of attention right now, and people are very, very mad about it. People see the waste in it. I was in the Bush administration's second term, and the honeymoon was over. People were mad. Well, this administration's redefined big government, big spending and big debt. I think anybody in leadership who ignores the anger of the American voter at this point in time is in very serious trouble. I don't see how you can survive any re-election. Their concern is economy, jobs and spending, and those guys are talking about healthcare and climate change. There's a disconnect, and the American people don't want to be ignored.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said:

Both. I don't think its 'either-or'. We've got to do things that strengthen the economy and help job creation, but also, simultaneously, we have to commit to a long-term plan to deal with the debt. Both jobs and debt affect the economy."

Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) said:

Jobs, of course, is key and that is what we're working on in the Senate. I'm pretty sure you'll see a job bill once we work on healthcare.

In Illinois, we need jobs. You're looking at over 10.5 percent unemployment in Illinois and across the country. So what we need now in order to get this economy going and the deficit down is people working. We also have to bring back manufacturing jobs.

We're started work on the prison for Guantanamo prisoners which could help the economy and be a major boost to the western part of the state, which is devastated by unemployment."

John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

Despite the efforts of groups like the one I lead, the American people do not have as solid an appreciation of the destructiveness of deficits as they should.  The need for jobs will, therefore, be a greater concern for a sizeable number of voters.  But if this concern leads to government "creating" jobs with more spending and greater deficits, the current economic travails will only worsen. Jobs created by the private sector are real; jobs created by government are an additional problem, not a solution.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research, said:

People care about jobs. They don't even know what the deficit is. The reporters at the major news outlets who cover the deficit don't know what the deficit is.

Suppose President Obama manages to cut the deficit by 50 percent from 2009 to 2010, leaving a deficit of around $800 billion. (For the record, this would be an absurdly large amount of deficit reduction.) The Republicans would still run around the country complaining about an $800 billion deficit! They would tell their audiences that President Obama was adding more than $2 billion a day to the national debt -- money that will have to be repaid by our children and grandchildren.

The major news outlets like National Public Radio and the Washington Post would write balance pieces saying things like: "the Obama administration boasts about its success in deficit reduction, but Republicans point out that the deficit is still the second highest ever, exceeded only by the deficit that President Obama ran in 2009."

The politics of deficit reduction are a deadend and President Obama and his team are far too smart to go that route. Their focus will be on creating jobs. This is what matters to the public -- and thankfully it is also what is good for the economy.

Michelle D. Bernard, president & CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum, said:

When more than 1 in 10 Americans is out of work and looking for a job, and many more are working fewer hours than they would like, jobs and the economic climate will be the number one issue on voters' minds.
 
Yet as people think about the overall health of the economy, they will consider if current spending and deficit trends are sustainable.  And it is clearly not, or at least not without serious repercussions.  In the short term, many may be willing to trade more debt today if it bought us job creation and economic growth, but after the first so-called "stimulus" bill and the current debate about spending another trillion dollars on health care, few believe that this Congress is using deficit spending to create jobs.  Far from it, much of what has been and is being proposed are giveaways to interest  groups and expand government's reach as an end in itself.
 
Jobs will be foremost in most people's mind, but the reckless expansion of government--both in terms of power and in terms of debt--will also motivate a lot of voters.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:

I feel jobs will be much more important. The challenge will be for voters to remember that job losses were caused by neglect, etc, in the middle years of this decade. Sometimes, it's hard to remember that.

Stuart Roy, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

This would be an easy question if it weren’t a false dichotomy. The era of Ross Perot and his famous charts was the last time deficit reduction was sexy. But even that wasn’t enough for the businessman cum politician.

But that is not the choice facing policy makers today. The available polling shows a growing unease with the growth, scope and ineptitude of government. The deficit is a symptom of that. While the deficit alone is generally abstract Americans sense the connection with their real lives. That leads us to jobs.

The jobs side of the equation is about more than the government spending billions to create some temporary make-work jobs and many fictional jobs. In fact, that severely adds to the anxiety about the growth and cost of government. And it’s ineptitude. Americans are concerned about the future – will my job still exist and will it just remain stagnant if it does? - as they are about the right-now.

There is a solution: Job-growth tax relief. A bitter bill for the majority party who despises tax cuts but a proven remedy. Some taxes build revenue for the Treasury, some don’t. Target the ones that do. They generally happen to be the same ones that promote job growth. And cut spending. Return TARP money to the Treasury for deficit reduction. Use unspent so-called Stimulus funds for deficit reduction or target it to “offset” tax relief. Let the cap and trade bill die a peaceful death or severely alter its contents. 

Americans, especially those with jobs, will respond to a trend line on the deficit going the right direction even if it isn’t fully corrected by the next election.

Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:

The government’s deficit, by now, is considered a permanent fact of reality, which most voters are cynical about: they recognize lawmakers will continue to spend, handing out goodies to their friends. That’s the way of Washington. Aside from which, the deficit is an abstraction: most voters believe (as do their elected representatives, apparently) that all Congress has to do is vote to raise the debt limit, and that “solves” the problem – although they have an uneasy feeling that it really is just staving off the inevitable (which never seems to come, or, at least, won’t arrive in their lifetime).

The jobs issue has an immediacy, however, that cannot be put off – especially when you have a mortgage to pay and no income, or greatly-reduced income. What most voters don’t realize, however, is that the jobs issue and rising government debt are inextricably linked.

As the Obama administration continues on its course of propping up companies supposedly “too big to fail,” soaking up available investment capital, punishing savers, and harassing employers with costly new regulations, capital will flee the country – and the ranks of the employed will continue to shrink.

With unemployment growing, and the economy going into a tailspin, voters are bound  to notice that some are prospering, however – the politically-connected. As more people lose their jobs, and the government announces more bailout measures, traditional concern with deficit spending and despair over job losses will combine into an all-encompassing populist rage – and then, watch out.