POLITICAL EYE: Voters hearing four-letter word (jobs) a lot


In one word, that sums up what the 2012 election is about.

For Republicans, cutting taxes and regulations on business creates jobs because companies hoarding an estimated $2 trillion to $3 trillion in cash might start hiring again.

For Democrats, government loans, investing in renewable energy and setting up an "infrastructure bank" for transportation projects means jobs, especially for unemployed construction workers.

And never the two sides shall agree, it seems, in the current divisive political climate.

The winner of the argument about how to boost job growth and reignite the economy will gain the upper hand in what could be a transformative election with President Barack Obama's job and control of the Democratic-run Senate and Republican-run House at stake.

"It will come down to which side is better able to frame the debate, with the Democrats arguing that it is the policies of the GOP that got us into this mess and that the Republicans in Congress are not interested in investing in job creation because it will hurt their electoral prospects," said David Damore, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"The Republicans will reflexively respond that the answer is less regulation and more tax breaks and a bunch of nonsense about a balanced budget amendment," he added.

Sigh. Sounds like a formula for continued Washington gridlock.

■ ■ ■

Nevada is the perfect ex ample of a state still deeply suffering from the recession. Unemployment statewide is 12.9 percent and 14 percent in Las Vegas. The national rate is 9.1 percent with economic analysts expecting it to stay about the same through next year under current policies.

In a move to take control of the jobs debate, Obama plans Thursday to address a joint session of Congress to lay out proposals to boost employment, including plans for the infrastructure bank.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will beat him to the punch by rolling out his own jobs plan on Tuesday in North Las Vegas at McCandless International Trucks Inc. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and investment banker, wants to boost private enterprise so companies will gain enough confidence to begin adding workers without fear of higher taxes.

Ryan Erwin, one of Romney's advisers in Nevada, said voters will have a stark choice between Obama's vision and that of his GOP presidential opponents who see him vulnerable on the economy.

"It's a very easy decision," Erwin said. "Do you believe that growing government should be the way to create jobs, or do you believe that empowering the private sector is the way to create jobs."

■ ■ ■

The jobs and economy debate is playing out at every political level.

U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., spent the past few weeks traveling Nevada on a "jobs tour" and promoting a training program in Las Vegas that got a federal grant to expand.

Her opponent, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., sent Obama a letter last week laying out his ideas for job creation, which he touted to business and GOP groups during the congressional summer break.

Heller proposed broad tax reform, including closing loopholes and cutting tax rates for people and businesses, eliminating regulations, enacting a balanced budget amendment and expanding domestic energy exploration, production and refinement to help get gasoline prices under control.

Jobs and the economy have been at the center, too, of the Sept. 13 special election between Republican Mark Amodei and Democrat Kate Marshall for the 2nd Congressional District.

"This will be an issue in elections from top to bottom on the ballot," Erwin said.

■ ■ ■

When it comes to jobs, emotions can run high. U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., encountered several protesters last week during a House field hearing on job training programs. One among the group of activists, which included union members, stood up and shouted, "We need jobs." Police escorted her away.

Heck told the gathering he believes in job training to help people find new work. But he also noted a lot of money is going to waste. The Government Accountability Office found 47 job training programs, including 44 with overlapping services, he said. The price tag: $18 billion.

"There is an obvious need to reduce costs and streamline support in federal workforce training services," Heck said, arguing government needs to trim spending .

Protesters tracked Heck throughout the congressional recess to pressure him to have an open town hall in Las Vegas instead of speaking to largely invitation-only GOP groups. On Friday, at least two dozen people protested outside a local restaurant where he spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition. Several paid $36 for tickets to get inside and ask questions and then speak to Heck.

Linda Overbey, an un­employed painter, said Heck agreed to hold a town hall in September.

"I feel like this is a personal victory," Overbey said in a statement, adding that she had scheduled several meetings before at his office, but "he didn't show up to any of them."

"When I got laid off, I decided to get active, and now by speaking up and showing him we won't go away, that we're willing to protest in the heat and get kicked out of hearings, he's agreeing to meet with us," said Overbey, 54. "I hope he listens."

Heck's office said he held two open forums in Southern Nevada last week: a 90-minute meeting in Laughlin and another one in Overton, both conservative enclaves.

None of the others in Nevada's congressional delegation held formal town halls during the summer break, although Heller, Berkley and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., spoke at many public forums.

Reid's biggest event was a one-day renewable energy summit in Las Vegas. Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Steven Chu joined him in calling for U.S. investment in solar, wind and geothermal energy. And they argued it's not only good for the country's future energy needs but also will create what America needs most right now.


Contact Laura Myers at lmyers @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.