Budget Balancing and Jobs: It's the Other Way Around!

03.19.13 1:54 PM ET

Now this is depressing, from Politico:

...internal party polling shows that Republicans think there’s massive political upside to talking about balancing the budget. In fact, Republican leadership think it’s the winning argument as the party again starts battling with Democrats over the nation’s fiscal future.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), GOP leadership staff and Ryan himself were all briefed on the poll results, according to several GOP sources.

The poll showed that 45 percent of Democratic voters think “balancing … the federal budget would significantly increase economic growth and create millions of American jobs.” A sky-high 61 percent of independents and 76 percent of Republicans agree.

But the data Republicans culled are much more granular than that.

Sixty-four percent of voters in Democratic-held districts — dubbed offensive districts by the NRCC — think balancing the budget creates a massive number of jobs. Swing district voters overwhelmingly agreed — to the tune of 62 percent. Fifty-seven percent of voters in Democratic districts represented by Republicans agree, as well.

It is in some sense understandable that people think this. The most recent memory they have of a balanced budget is Bill Clinton. He balanced the budget and created millions of jobs, so that must be the cause and effect.

Except...it's exactly backwards! Creating millions of jobs balances the budget! Thinking that balancing the budget creates millions of jobs is like thinking that losing weight results in the intake of fewer calories.

People can't help but think of the economy in moral terms. Deficits are bad. Getting rid of them is good. Ergo, no deficts lead to all kinds of good things. But the economy isn't moral at all. Very much not, in fact. Deficits and even debt can be good. People can accept this in their own lives. Otherwise no one would ever buy a home or a car.

But they somehow can't accept it in the political realm. I would bet that Clinton himself, the great trusted authority on this question to all but wingnuts, could spend a month saying literally every day what I write above, and even he would not shift public opinion on this more than a few percentage points. But it's completely backwards, and it could dictate how we make policy. And needless to say it's the GOP that depends on perpetuation of the fiction.