Quick thought experiment--which of the following two scenarios would put Democrats be in a better position for the 2010 midterm elections?
You would have to be living in a pretty walled-off, abstract world to think that voters care more about the deficit than unemployment. Not only should the far greater importance of jobs be obvious on a gut level to anyone with a job in politics, but polling currently shows more than three times as many people citing jobs and the economy as the top national issue than cite spending and the deficit.
- Shrinking deficits, with stagnating unemployment;
- Shrinking unemployment, with stagnating deficits.
In order for Democrats to avoid a Republican landslide in 2010, creating jobs is far more important than reducing the deficit. This is especially the case given that unemployment is not expected to drop at all until next summer, at the earliest. If you think polling is worrying for Democrats now, and you would have good reason to think that it is, imagine what the polls will look like after another eight or nine months of 10% unemployment. Wipeout city.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Obama administration has had enough of dealing with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. In 2010, the administration is looking to institute a job-slashing freeze--or even a significant reduction--of government spending. The plan is already in the works, as every government agency has been ordered to prepare for either a spending freeze, or for 5% spending cuts:
The Obama administration has alerted domestic agencies to plan for a freeze or even a 5 percent cut in their budgets, part of an election-year push to rein in record deficits that threaten the economy and Democrats' political prospects next fall.
How is freezing, or cutting, federal spending going to create jobs in 2010? The answer is that it won't. Such a move is more likely to cost a lot of jobs. The Obama administration is also looking to use the remaining $210 billion in Wall Street bailout money to pay down the deficit, rather than to finance a new jobs bill. The bottom line is that they are focusing on deficit reduction, not on creating new jobs.
If the Obama administration is not going to undertake any serious effort to improve the employment situation in 2010, and will instead focus on reducing the deficit, the Democratic majority in the House is now in serious danger. If Democrats run for re-election in 2010 while facing 9-10% unemployment (and 16-17% underemployment), it doesn't take a polling expert to know what will happen.
This isn't to say that we should give up. For one thing, we need to fight against the administration focus on the deficit versus employment. For another, we need to make sure to defend the endangered progressive champions in Congress, so that the overwhelming brunt of losses are Democrats with whom we could live without. However, no matter what we do, we do need to face the reality that unless the administration changes course, and focuses on jobs instead of the deficit, 2010 is going to be a continued disaster on the jobs market, and a complete disaster for the Democratic Party.