In a recent telephone survey purported to have reached 10,000 upstate New Yorkers, Rep. William L. Owenss staff asked the respondents to press a number on their phones to signify what issue was most important to them.
It wasnt even close.
Fifty percent of respondents said that jobs were the most important issue, with the next closest, the federal debt and deficit, coming in at just 15 percent. It may not have been scientific, or surprising, but it highlighted the fact that the Nov. 6 election between Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Republican Matthew A. Doheny will revolve around jobs and the economy. It also highlighted a distinction between the candidates about the effectiveness of government austerity plans.
Mr. Dohenys appraisal of the job Mr. Owens has done on jobs is damning, though Mr. Owens calls the criticism illogical.
I think my opponents getting a little bit out of his depth here, said Mr. Doheny, who, like Mr. Owens, touts his experience in the private sector as his main qualification for office.
In May, the 11 counties in the 21st Congressional District, including Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence, had higher unemployment rates than in May 2010, a few months after Mr. Owens took office. In Jefferson County, for example, the jobless rate in May 2012 was 9.6 percent, up from 8.7 percent two years ago.
But Mr. Owens said that nearly one percentage point in the unemployment rate is due to job losses in the public sector the result of government austerity.
If youre going to reduce government spending, thats going to result in jobs loss, Mr. Owens said. You cant have it both ways, and say Bill Owens is responsible for this, when in fact that is a natural consequence of cutting like this. That, to me, is not logical.
Mr. Owens, who has said that government should cut, but carefully, maintained that severe austerity measures wont result in a booming economy.
Theres been no evidence of that that I can see, he said. You look at England, which went into a very austere policy, and they have an economy and a (gross domestic product) thats declining.
But he, too, has called for cuts on the federal level a different type of austerity than what has come to pass, he said.
This is a very delicate balance, Mr. Owens said.
But Mr. Doheny said the federal deficit has to be tackled sooner rather than later. Cutting government as well as taxes and regulations would indeed spur the private sector, Mr. Doheny said.
Mr. Owens, meanwhile, said his main focus in Congress has been threefold. First is helping employers fill the 3,000 empty positions in the north country, which would lower the unemployment rate by another 0.5 percent, he said. Second is luring companies from Canada. The third is targeted tax cuts for certain industries, which would be tied in a measurable way to the number of jobs created.
But Mr. Doheny said that his pitch has resonated with business owners.
I sit around and talk to people in the district, on the street, no one says, If you raise my taxes, Im going to hire another person and add more jobs, he said.