WASHINGTON — ''Clinton's strategy would cause 2.6 million jobs to be lost.''
Washington. -- This assertion, which originated in a Bush-Quayle press release August 10, has become a campaign-trail bromide. It has the grand size and gleaming specificity we've come to expect in Bush statistics. Also the flagrant dishonesty.
Governor Clinton's economic plan is far from perfect, though it is preferable to President Bush's plans, or lack thereof. But the issue here is not jobs. The issue, as with other Bush statistical claims, is the one he himself has chosen to emphasize: trust. The August 10 press release accompanied a ''Fact Sheet,'' allegedly documenting the ''2.6 million jobs lost'' claim. Let's go through it.
* Defense cuts -- 1 million jobs.
The Bush ''Fact Sheet'' cites a study by a professor at the University of New Mexico. The study concludes that Mr. Bush's own defense cuts will cost a million jobs -- a point the president does not emphasize -- and that deeper cuts could double that number.
But this study measures the effect of defense cuts far deeper than anything Mr. Clinton has proposed. According to Gordon Adams of the Defense Budget Project, the New Mexico study assumes cuts beyond the president's proposals of at least $220 billion through 1997. According to Mr. Bush's own ''Fact Sheet,'' Governor Clinton proposes cuts of only $86 billion.
More important, the one-million figure assumes that money not spent on defense simply disappears. Mr. Clinton proposes to spend it, and more -- a point Mr. Bush likes to emphasize in other contexts. That will create jobs. Mr. Clinton's plans for investment in public infrastructure, etc., may be wise or otherwise, but it is flatly dishonest to count the jobs lost in defense and not the jobs gained in Mr. Clinton's alternatives. If President Bush thinks that government spending is a bad way to create jobs, he should stop bouncing around the country bragging about all the defense jobs he has saved.
* Mr. Clinton's ''play-or-pay'' health-care proposal -- 700,000 jobs.
The ''Fact Sheet'' cites a report by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The report actually says ''350,000 to 700,000'' jobs. In the ''Fact Sheet'' this becomes ''as many as 700,000,'' and in the press release a flat ''700,000.''
Mr. Clinton proposes to require companies above a certain size to either provide health insurance to employees or pay the government to supply it instead. The Office of Management and Budget estimates this will require a payroll tax on non-providers of 7 to 9 percent. Total cost: up to $37 billion a year. Some employers will reduce jobs rather than pay the tax. The report fails to consider how many jobs might be created in health care by the infusion of $37 billion dollars of new spending. This might be more or less than ''350,000 to 700,000,'' but it is surely greater than zero.
The ''Fact Sheet'' also leaves out another interesting number from this same OMB report: $35 billion. That's the Bush administration's estimate of the added annual cost to the federal government of Mr. Bush's own health-reform plan. But Mr. Bush, unlike Mr. Clinton, has never said where he plans to get the money. If he knows how to skim $35 billion off the economy without costing jobs, he's keeping it a secret.
* Higher CAFE standards -- 300,000 jobs.
Federal ''corporate average fuel economy'' rules require auto manufacturers to average 27.5 miles per gallon. Governor Clinton has semi-endorsed a proposal to increase this, over a decade, to 40 mpg. The job-loss estimate comes from the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association. It actually says ''between 150,000 and 300,000,'' which naturally mutates into a hard ''300,000'' by the time it hits the Bush-Quayle press release.
The computation is absurd in any event. The auto lobby simply assumes that anyone now involved in making cars that get less than 40 mpg will be unemployed 10 years from now. That is, it assumes that neither customers nor domestic manufacturers will make the slightest effort to buy or manufacture more domestic cars meeting the higher standard. A sad comment on the auto industry, if true. But it ain't.
* A ''1.5 percent payroll-tax mandate'' -- 300,000 jobs.
The ''Fact Sheet'' is a little vague on this. Clinton proposes a 1.5 percent payroll tax to finance worker retraining, but only on companies that don't spend that much on retraining anyway, as many do. The ''Fact Sheet'' seems to assume that all companies will have to pay a new 1.5 percent tax, which they won't. As usual, it assumes the revenue just disappears, ignoring any new jobs created by the spending on worker retraining (not to mention any career benefit to the retrained workers themselves). President Bush himself proposes to spend $2 billion a year on worker retraining. But he doesn't say where the $2 billion will come from. As usual.
* Unspecified ''business tax increases'' -- 300,000 jobs.
I could find no direct substantiation of this figure in the ''Fact Sheet.''
Mr. Clinton brags that his program will produce 8 million new jobs over four years. This claim is also fishy, though not because it's false. Eight million, it turns out, is simply an estimate of how many new jobs would occur in a moderate economic recovery. This would barely reduce unemployment from its current level. Mr. Clinton is presenting an extremely modest goal as if it were something more.
Thus Clinton versus Bush on the Clinton economic program is a good illustration of the difference between being slick and being a flat-out liar. Mr. Clinton is slick.
TRB is a column of The New Republic, written by Michael Kinsley.