Nancy Pelosi has a one-track mind.
Even as her moment of triumph neared this weekend, one could sense that she was a woman who remained unsatisfied. Sure, Rep. Pelosi (D-Calif.)—The Most Powerful Woman in the World™—had just rammed a historic health care reform bill through a fractious House. But Pelosi watchers know that health care reform was really just another way to get her fix. The true object of her desire can be captured in four little words: "jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs."
Those words are Pelosi's mantra. Pelosi spies reliably inform me that she repeats them under her breath as she settles into the cobra pose during her morning sun salutations, "jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs." As Pelosi herself put it in January, "The jobs issue has permeated every major initiative that we have." The preoccupations of the powerful should never go unexamined, so let's take a look at some of the extravagant claims Pelosi has made about her awesome job-creating power.
By Pelosi's accounting, the health care bill is jam packed with new jobs. In her standard sales pitch, Pelosi emphasized that the bill was "about jobs. In its life it will create 4 million jobs, 400,000 jobs almost immediately." Apparently those first 400,000 were supposed to spring full-formed from her gavel once the vote tally was complete—or perhaps from the president's pen, which Pelosi got to keep after the bill was signed yesterday. While those jobs were invisible to the naked eye on CSPAN, they'll be showing up in the March unemployment figures no doubt.
On the floor of the House in June, as the climate change bill was being debated, Pelosi promised that the bill would create "millions of new jobs" and urged her colleagues to vote aye: "And when you do, just remember these four words for what this legislation means: jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs." She even provided a fancy infographic on her blog, The Gavel. And when it comes to the nation's energy future, those new jobs aren't just any jobs: They're green. While on the campaign trail Obama claimed he could create 5 million "green collar" jobs, a figure he later scaled back to a vague claim of "millions." Pelosi continues to go whole hog, claiming we are on track to create 4 million jobs.
"It's all about the jobs," she declared in December, before a Copenhagen audience that didn't give two hoots about America's unemployment woes. (Pelosi isn't alone in her obsession. Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a co-sponsor of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, also said "Our bill is essentially a jobs bill.") Even when the audience is completely inappropriate, as it was at the failed Copenhagen international climate summit, Pelosi can't shut up about her idée fixe.
But wait, there's more! The stimulus bill created 2 million jobs by the accounting of Pelosi's team. Well, make that "created or saved" which is where things start to get slippery. Pelosi's post-passage estimate was closer to 3.5 million, but since much of the stimulus money isn't yet spent, there's time yet to reach that goal.
And let's not forget the job creation bill, now elbowing its way to the top of the post-health care congressional agenda. Like any junkie, Pelosi gets impatient when others get in the way of her next job-creation fix. The Senate announced plans for a modest job creation package of infrastructure spending and tax cuts in February. Pelosi grudgingly agreed to cede to the Senate—probably because she was a distracted by the process of creating those 4 million health care jobs. On "This Week" in late February she said: "We wanted to move as quickly as possible on jobs. We passed our bill in December, as you probably know. What the Senate is taking is a segmented approach to it. [But] it would have been faster if they would just agree to our bill last year because people are hurting, they need jobs and we need to move quickly. But then she returned to her messaging obsession. "It's a four letter word that we use around here all the time, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs."
Even a bill that does nothing more than create jobs isn't enough to sate the ravenous Pelosi. In a slip of the tongue in February, Pelosi said that without a stimulus package 500 million Americans would lose their jobs that very month. She was repeating an error she made in January on Fox News Sunday in January.
But no matter how deep and broad her commitment to creating jobs may be, Pelosi doesn't have the ability to make money appear from nowhere. Money that government spends has to come from somewhere, be it taxpayer dollars, debt, or increases in the money supply. That means the hundreds of billions of dollars Pelosi is using to create those jobs are dollars that would have been spent or invested somewhere else.
In the long run, certain political climates are conducive to job creation. In that sense, the most plausible claim to job creation is the health care bill. The rest of the jobs are three-card monte: Jobs snatched from one sector and dropped into another for the purposes of politics. Green jobs are the easiest place to see this happen. For every solar panel installation gig, a job or two on an oil rig is deep-sixed. And in the case of those health care jobs, Pelosi's claim relies on firms, old and new, finding it cheaper and easier to do business in the post-reform world, a point on which the jury is still very much out.
If you add up all those numbers, Pelosi is laying claim to at least 10 million jobs. Which brings her up and over the 8.4 million lost since the recession began. But now the time has come for Pelosi to turn her attention to the one job that she must care about most: her own.
Katherine Mangu-Ward is a senior editor of Reason magazine.