‘American Jobs Act’: Gohmert’s inspired act of plagiarism

David Cohen Former Deputy Assistant Sec. of the Interior
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I had never heard of Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) until yesterday. But if they give awards for inspired political mischief, Gohmert is an instant Hall of Famer.

As reported by Mary Katharine Ham, yesterday Gohmert introduced the American Jobs Act. No, not that American Jobs Act. Not the $447 billion hodge-podge of proposals that President Obama announced last week as his plan to revitalize the economy. Gohmert’s bill is a simple two-pager that does nothing but repeal the federal corporate income tax. The title “American Jobs Act” was available for Gohmert’s bill because no one has bothered to introduce the president’s bill.

Gohmert’s impish plagiarism might seem like an inconsequential prank, good for a few chuckles from partisan Republicans but nothing more. On closer inspection, though, Gohmert’s act of political piracy is revealed as a stroke of genius. Here are some reasons why:

There goes the marketing plan: Obama had gone to extraordinary lengths to make a big splash with the launch of the marketing campaign for his new jobs bill. He arranged to roll out the campaign with a nationally televised, prime-time speech before a joint session of Congress. Obama’s carefully chosen brand name for his jobs bill, the “American Jobs Act,” was a key part of the marketing plan. Obama mentioned that brand name nine times in last week’s speech, and countless more times in subsequent campaign stops around the country. Railing against Republicans for failing to pass the “American Jobs Act” was probably going to be the centerpiece of Obama’s re-election campaign.

Gohmert has thrown a spanner in those works. The phrase “American Jobs Act,” presumably the result of expensive focus-group testing by the White House, is now officially tied to a policy that Obama will never support. That won’t stop Obama from railing against Republicans, but he may have to find another brand name. Perhaps he could call another joint session of Congress to unveil a new name for his bill.

Any new brand name will certainly not include the word “stimulus,” even though Obama’s bill is clearly a rehash of the unsuccessful policies of the 2009 stimulus. Not once in Obama’s speech did he utter the “s” word, and the Democrats have clearly purged it from their vocabulary.

The Democrats won’t openly acknowledge that their 2009 stimulus was such a failure that it has made “stimulus” a dirty word. Here’s a way to smoke them out: If Gohmert is still feeling mischievous, he might consider beating the Democrats to the punch once again by immediately introducing Obama’s bill with the title “Stimulus Act of 2011.” The Democrats supporting the bill would then, as President Obama likes to say, have a choice. One choice would be to acquiesce to the title — and hence re-embrace a term that has been contaminated by failure. The other choice would be to protest the title — and hence admit that the term has been contaminated by failure.

Further evidence that they can’t get anything right: The ease with which Gohmert has robbed the president of his chosen rallying cry reinforces the growing sense that this White House can’t get anything right. No competently run White House would allow such a thing to happen, just as no competently run business would spend a lot of money to introduce a new product without first locking down the rights to the brand name. Obama’s big jobs speech has now been bookended by embarrassing blunders, starting with the White House’s failed attempt to upstage last week’s GOP presidential debate. At a time when the president needs to overcome increasing public doubt about his competence, Gohmert’s gleeful jab has reinforced that doubt.

No Democrat was in a tearing hurry to “pass this jobs bill now”: During the president’s address last week, he exhorted Congress to “pass this jobs bill now” (or variations on that phrase) 16 times. That was of course an unreasonable request, because the White House at the time had not yet finished drafting the bill. The president did, however, release the bill on Monday. One would think, given the urgency conveyed in Obama’s speech, that at least one of the 192 Democrats in the House would have gotten around to dropping the bill in the hopper by the time Gohmert introduced his bill on Wednesday. Gohmert has exposed an apparent lack of urgency on the part of House Democrats to pass Obama’s bill.

Obama’s American Jobs Act suffers by comparison to Gohmert’s American Jobs Act: Although I have referred to Gohmert’s bill as “political mischief,” it should not be dismissed as a mere publicity stunt. Gohmert’s two-page bill would easily create more jobs than Obama’s 155-page, $447 billion bill. If the 2009 stimulus failed to revive our economy, how could anyone expect an undernourished version of that same approach to succeed? The Solyndra scandal highlights the folly of job-creating schemes where government officials reward selected businesses with large sums of taxpayer money. Such market-distorting schemes are ineffective at best, corrupt at worst.

Gohmert’s bill, on the other hand, would almost certainly create jobs. America has one of the highest statutory corporate tax rates in the world. This is somewhat mitigated by a haphazard patchwork of loopholes that are more the result of good lobbying than good economics. Our byzantine corporate income tax system chases jobs overseas. If the tax is not eliminated altogether, it should at least be significantly reduced and simplified.

While eliminating the corporate income tax would certainly create jobs, House Republicans should consider using Gohmert’s bill as a vehicle to reform the entire tax code for individuals as well as corporations. This more comprehensive approach may or may not include fully eliminating the corporate income tax, but it should certainly broaden the tax base with lower rates and fewer deductions.

In fact, tax reform is something that both parties should be able to get behind. The president’s own bipartisan debt commission proposed an ambitious tax reform plan that the president has so far ignored. Here’s hoping that the president and Congress can agree on a bipartisan bill to make our tax code flatter, fairer, simpler and more effective in promoting growth. For such a bill, “American Jobs Act” would be a worthy name and not just a cynical marketing ploy.

David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He hosts the debate show “Beer Summit” for PBS Guam.