Republicans Must Stop Calling Keystone XL Approval A ‘Jobs Bill’

David Benkof Contributor
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“Jobs!” appears to be the one-word Republican slogan promoting the Keystone Pipeline bill – or at least since November, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell began promoting “the Keystone jobs bill.” That’s the same term Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) used Tuesday night in her response to the State of the Union.

But Keystone doesn’t create many jobs. And even if it did, that’s no reason for conservatives to support it.

TransAmerica CEO Russ Girling, a key Keystone booster, told ABC’s This Week that the project would create 42,000 “ongoing, enduring jobs.” But the State Department estimates that the project would require only 35 permanent new workers. That’s not unusual for a temporary building project; most of the work is temporary during the construction phase.

But “the government will help the economy by putting people to work” is a naive liberal do-gooder idea unworthy of serious Republicans. If Keystone were primarily a “jobs bill,” we could easily replace it with a “Highway Beautification Jobs Bill” hiring people to pick up trash, or an “Interpretative Dance Jobs Bill” expanding support for the creative arts. We could even pay people to do nothing in particular, and still create “jobs.”

So the question is not whether a bill creates jobs, it’s whether those jobs contribute to an important and worthy project.

And with Keystone, the answer is a resounding yes.

We need measures for energy independence like Keystone in order to free us from reliance on Middle Eastern princes, sheiks and ayatollahs for the health of America’s economy. Keystone is about protecting the future stability of the United States economy, and more broadly about American security and independence.

I don’t know if party leaders like McConnell and Ernst are being coldly calculating when they ignore Milton Friedman’s economic lessons and align themselves with union leaders. But it’s important to keep in mind that creating jobs is not a sufficient reason for government to do something. Ending dependence on foreign despots for a crucial economic resource is.

Republicans need not be afraid to say what we believe and defend it. Arguing on the basis of “creating jobs” — very few ones — puts us on Democratic turf, where we’re always going to lose, since they’ll just raise wages and we’ll look like misers again.

Instead, let them come to our turf, and explain why our country should reject the first reasonable step to ramp up domestic energy production.

We’re not going to win converts to the conservative cause by accepting the debate as framed by liberals: “How much money should the government spend to help suffering Americans? A lot or a little?” Instead, let’s ask: “What truly necessary actions can the government undertake while still maximizing our freedom and resources?”

I want Keystone to pass – but not by reinforcing the liberal fallacy that paying people to work – or to do nothing – “stimulates” the economy.

David Benkof is on the editorial staff of the Daily Caller. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at Benkof@dailycaller.com.