Dust Cre­ation or Job Creation?

Repub­li­cans pledged to gov­ern on a plat­form of job cre­ation after their soar­ing 2010 midterm elec­tion vic­tory. The U.S. econ­omy was clearly in the crap­per — the rea­sons for this are out­side the scope of the arti­cle — and there needed to be an hon­est debate on the causes and cures for the eco­nomic mess we found our­selves in.

Most ana­lysts agreed that focus­ing on eco­nomic issues was a win­ner for the Repub­li­cans. What­ever one’s feel­ings on Pres­i­dent Obama, and the causes for the cur­rent cri­sis, there is broad agree­ment amongst Amer­i­cans of all polit­i­cal stripes that the unem­ploy­ment rate is too high.

The Repub­li­cans say they’re focus­ing on job cre­ation. On gop​.gov, they claim there are 28 “bipar­ti­san job cre­ation” bills await­ing Sen­ate action, not-​​so-​​subtly imply­ing that Sen­ate Major­ity Leader Harry Reid (D-​​NV) and the Democrat-“controlled” Sen­ate are hold­ing up key bills. (In real­ity, with clo­ture rules, no one party “con­trols” the Sen­ate, but that’s another story for another day.)

How­ever, when one looks a lit­tle beneath the sur­face, these so-​​called “job cre­ation” bills are noth­ing more than naked par­ti­san swipes at the Pres­i­dent and Democ­rats. For exam­ple, num­ber two on the Republican’s list is HR 1633, the Farm Dust Reg­u­la­tion Pre­ven­tion Act of 2011, which pre­vents the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency from mak­ing reg­u­la­tions about par­tic­u­late mat­ter from farms. I sup­pose a rather tor­tured case can be made for job cre­ation in this case, but it’s a dif­fi­cult sell dur­ing an elec­tion year.

HR 3012 is the Fair­ness for High-​​Skilled Immi­grants Act of 2011. Rather than attempt to improve the edu­ca­tional sys­tem in this coun­try, it pro­poses to lighten visa restric­tions on high-​​tech work­ers from China (and no other coun­try). While I’m gen­er­ally in favor of this ini­tia­tive, I’m hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time con­nect­ing the dots so they cre­ate a path to the goal of reduc­ing Amer­i­can unemployment.

A care­ful exam­i­na­tion of these “job cre­ation” bills reveals that the vast major­ity have to do with eas­ing sup­pos­edly bur­den­some gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions. That may cre­ate jobs, but the reg­u­la­tions that are being eased (like farm dust) are small pota­toes com­pared to the num­ber of jobs the econ­omy needs to create.

In the absence of any effec­tive job cre­ation strat­egy from either side of the aisle — a symp­tom of the “do-​​nothing Con­gress” — Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have turned to moral issues. Now comes a push by Repub­li­cans in Con­gress on whether employ­ers should be required to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tive pre­scrip­tions, clearly another in their series of impor­tant job cre­ation bills.

So it is that this week’s news is about the Big Bad Obama Admin­is­tra­tion “forc­ing” health care plans to cover con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices, even when the employer may be morally opposed to con­tra­cep­tion. I’d like to exam­ine the likely suc­cess of such a strategy.

It seems that most Amer­i­cans, and even most Catholics, are pre­pared to ignore this week’s advi­sory from the Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops. Accord­ing to Arch­bishop Tim­o­thy M. Dolan,

Never before has the fed­eral gov­ern­ment forced indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions to go out into the mar­ket­place and buy a prod­uct that vio­lates their con­science. This shouldn’t hap­pen in a land where free exer­cise of reli­gion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.

The pol­icy that riled the Catholic Bish­ops this week has been in place since the twi­light days of the Clin­ton Admin­is­tra­tion. In Decem­ber 2000, the Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­nity Com­mis­sion (EEOC) ruled that employ­ers were required to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices as part of any health plan that cov­ered other pre­scrip­tion med­i­cines. This was uncon­tro­ver­sial at the time and appeared to be on solid legal foot­ing, given Congress’s clear intent in pass­ing Title VII in 1964 and the Preg­nancy Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act of 1978, PL 95–555, 92 Stat. 2076.

The exis­tence of the EEOC’s 2000 rul­ing con­tra­dicts Arch­bishop Dolan.

The Repub­li­cans, to dis­tract Amer­i­cans from their lack of job cre­ation, have decided to rede­fine life as occur­ring at the point of con­cep­tion. This is a per­fectly fine moral and eth­i­cal posi­tion, but it’s not sci­ence, and call­ing it “sci­ence” does not make it so. It’s not even a view held by a major­ity of Catholics.

For exam­ple, address­ing pas­tors at the Bella Donna Chapel in McK­in­ney, Texas, this week, can­di­date Rick San­to­rum said,

Abor­tion is wrong. I know life begins at con­cep­tion … There’s no dif­fer­ence between that child in the womb and any one of us but time.

Well, tech­ni­cally, there’s no dif­fer­ence between me and a corpse but time. Santorum’s stated posi­tion is con­trary to sci­ence. There are a lot of devel­op­men­tal events which occur between con­cep­tion and birth that he’s gloss­ing over here.

The Obama Admin­is­tra­tion is in full cam­paign mode. Their inter­nal polling tells them that Repub­li­cans are weak on the con­tra­cep­tion issue. In late 2011, Demo­c­ra­tic poll­ster Celinda Lake pre­sented this state­ment to peo­ple being polled:

Requir­ing health insur­ers to cover con­tra­cep­tives vio­lates the rights of peo­ple who belong to reli­gions that don’t believe in arti­fi­cial con­tra­cep­tion. The Catholic Church morally opposes birth con­trol and Ortho­dox Jews and some Protes­tants find birth con­trol objec­tion­able. Forc­ing reli­gious groups, indi­vid­u­als, health providers, and health plans to per­form or pay for a ser­vice that they may find morally objec­tion­able is wrong.

In Lake’s analy­sis, 52 per­cent of Amer­i­cans polled found this argu­ment “not convincing”.

A Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling (PPP) sur­vey, com­mis­sioned by Planned Par­ent­hood, found Amer­i­cans sup­port con­tra­cep­tives as part of health plans even at Catholic insti­tu­tions, with 57 per­cent in favor vs 39 per­cent opposed (i.e. a spread of +18 points). More crit­i­cally, in the crosstabs, Catholics fall squarely along with other Amer­i­cans, favor­ing this plan 5345 (+8). Inde­pen­dents over­all favor it 5639 (+17) and Catholic inde­pen­dents are in favor 6039 (+21).

Crit­i­cally, Repub­li­cans are opposed to this pol­icy, 3858 (-20).

Con­gres­sional action to over­turn the 2000 EEOC rul­ing is a non-​​starter with a large major­ity of Amer­i­cans. Accord­ing to the same PPP memo,

58% of vot­ers say they oppose Repub­li­cans in Con­gress try­ing to take away the birth con­trol ben­e­fit … includ­ing 56% of independents.

One might crit­i­cize these polling num­bers as the out­put of par­ti­san hacks, but they’re con­sis­tent with a Gallup poll released in July of 2011 that showed 62 per­cent of Repub­li­cans, 46 per­cent of inde­pen­dents, and 33 per­cent of Democ­rats in favor of “opt-​​out” pro­vi­sions that allow phar­ma­cists and health care providers to refuse to pro­vide ser­vices they may feel are “anti-​​life”.

Still, on Fri­day the Pres­i­dent announced a “com­pro­mise”: in cases where an employer refuses to pay for birth con­trol, the cost of con­tra­cep­tives will be shifted from the employer to the insur­ance com­pany. This has the effect of still pro­vid­ing birth con­trol to all employ­ees, but with the tissue-​​thin excuse that “we didn’t pay for it, the insur­ance com­pany did”. The insur­ance com­pany is happy, because birth con­trol is cheaper than preg­nancy and child­birth (which they are still required to cover based on the Preg­nancy Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act).

Sup­port­ing the removal of con­tra­cep­tives from health plans is a naked appeal to the Repub­li­can base, and it may help Rick San­to­rum in his pri­mary cam­paign, but if he is the even­tual nom­i­nee, can he pivot and change his posi­tion in time to win the gen­eral elec­tion? Hav­ing the solid sup­port of 40 per­cent of Amer­i­cans on an issue is not a big win­ner in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Mitt Rom­ney is even more vul­ner­a­ble on this issue, and is per­ceived as hav­ing flip-​​flopped to his cur­rent pro-​​life posi­tion, so it’s a loser no mat­ter who becomes the Repub­li­can nominee.