At a press conference on Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner answered a question about federal job loss in the event that House Republicans enact billions of dollars in discretionary spending cuts. "Over the last two years since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs," Boehner said. "And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We're broke. It's time for us to get serious about how we're spending the nation's money."
Boehner's words--"so be it"--have been splashed across any number of Web sites in the hours since. First let's pause for a bit of fact-checking: it's not clear where the "200,000 jobs" figure came from. Ed O'Keefe at The Washington Post figures that while the federal government added some 280,000 full-time employees between 2009 and 2010, it also lost about 173,000 over the same period, for a net gain of about 107,000 workers. And Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo points out that a number of laid-off federal employees would "no doubt collect unemployment insurance, so the government's obligation to them won't disappear with their jobs."
But more than the numbers, people are talking about what kind of political damage Boehner may or may not have done himself. Among liberals, Boehner's comments have met with predictable anger, but there's also a measure of "can you believe he actually said that?" delight. Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly calls it "a rather extraordinary acknowledgment ... Mark the day and time -- the House Republican leadership no longer thinks it matters if GOP policies force thousands of American workers from their jobs." At TPM, Beutler seems to think the spending cuts will come back to haunt Republicans eventually. "Once the extent of the cuts is finalized, economists will provide [job-loss figures]," Beutler writes. "And then we'll have an answer for a question Boehner made famous during the 2010 campaign: 'Where are the jobs?!'"
On the other hand, some rightward commentators think Boehner is making a canny move here. David Weigel at Slate argues that the Speaker is actually toeing the party line. "The calculus is fewer government jobs = more private sector jobs," Weigel writes. "It's a cousin of the Laffer Curve; if we wanted, I guess we could call it the Boehner Curve." Meanwhile, Don Surber at the Charleston Daily Mail seems to give Boehner credit for treating Americans like adults. "When a private company loses money, it cuts costs or it will soon cease to exist. One cost is labor," Surber writes. "Boehner is most correct ... The 8 million Americans without a job through no fault of their own get what Boehner was saying. No one wants anyone to lose a job but, as the speaker said, we're broke."
And Michael Shear at The New York Times guesses that Boehner's comments will help the GOP more than they hurt. "The Republicans appear to have made a calculation that the political benefits from attacking the size and scope of government are greater than the potential impact of angering some federal workers," Shear writes. "Under pressure from the Tea Party members in their ranks, Republicans are eager to demonstrate their desire to shrink federal spending and bureaucracy -- and they can't do either without firing workers."
Meanwhile, as many on the left have pointed out, Boehner has no problem with government spending when it takes the form of $450 million in Department of Defense outlays for a jet engine--money that will largely benefit Boehner's home district in Ohio.