Why 11 Democratic Senators and not 50 (all of them less the three on the Super Committee) signed this effort spearheaded by Jeff Merkley is beyond me, but if more sign on it could be a crucial factor in actually pivoting away from deficit talk and toward jobs.

A group of senators today urged the Co-Chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to take steps to ensure that Congress and the public get an independent estimate of their proposal’s impact on jobs – and do no harm to employment in America.

Eleven senators wrote to the co-chairs of the committee, Senator Patty Murray and Representative Jeb Hensarling and asked them to send the Committee’s proposal to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for an analysis of jobs impact. CBO will already be tasked with looking at the impact on the deficit.

Senators signing are: Jeff Merkley (OR), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Barbara Boxer (CA), Bernie Sanders (VT), Daniel Akaka (HA), Bob Menendez (NJ), Sherrod Brown (OH), Al Franken (MN), Mark Begich (AK), and Frank Lautenberg (NJ).

The letter is here. In it, the eleven Senators write:

Simply put, putting people back to work will help get our debt under control, and therefore, the Select Committee must make job creation a top priority as it weighs changes to federal spending and revenues.

To accomplish this objective, we request that the Select Committee adopt two principles: first, that each proposed recommendation be analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the impact on employment. Most Americans believe that our top economic priority is job creation, and this information would provide the American public with a clear understanding of how the Select Committee’s recommendations will help affect their communities and their livelihoods.

Second, the Committee should adopt a “Do No Harm” standard – at a minimum, its recommendations should not result in any job loss and, ideally, that they maximize new job creation while meeting the deficit reduction goals.

Since ANY big reduction in fiscal policy will invariably reduce jobs, it would appear that the eleven Senators are asking the Super Committee not to cut anything. But they are also right that you cannot cut the deficit in a time of sustained 9% unemployment: it’s just not possible. And there are some deficit reduction measures that would have little impact on employment. Paired with something like the American Jobs Act, you would have an actual job creation program.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi addressed this idea in her weekly press conference, saying that the committee would be “doing a disservice” if they offer recommendations blindly without CBO assessing the impact on employment.

“What the possibility is, of taking every initiative and passing it through the CBO for its job creating potential I think is a great idea,” Pelosi said at her weekly Capitol briefing Thursday. “I don’t know why anybody would want to make a judgment without that evaluation, especially at this time.” [...]

“The committee put its rules together in a bipartisan way…it was a priority for the House Democrats in the writing of the rules to say that as they made judgment as to how these initiatives would reduce the deficit that they should also demonstrate how each initiative would create jobs — or not,” Pelosi said.

I don’t think the Super Committee will come up with anything of value, so in a way this is more of a political push. But it’s a good one. There’s no good rationale for denying the ability to have CBO score the deficit plan for jobs. It would create a teachable moment – that austerity is bad for the economy. Kudos to Merkley for pushing it; more Democrats should join him.