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Tax cuts aren't the be-all, end-all for economic growth

Republicans have made this argument about the stimulus: After it was signed into law, the U.S. economy has lost more than 2 million jobs so far.

That argument, of course, is misleading. It doesn't take into account the jobs the stimulus created or saved; it doesn't reflect what the jobs market would have looked like had the stimulus not passed; and it doesn't take into consideration the 3.6 million jobs that were lost in George W. Bush's last year as president.

But if you use that same GOP argument in the context of the current debate over the Bush tax cuts -- should they be extended or not? -- it paints a flawed but still revealing picture: After the tax cuts were passed in June 2001, and furthered in 2003, the U.S. economy has lost nearly 1.6 million jobs.

To be sure, plenty of external factors (like 9/11 and the 2008 financial crash) contributed to that job-loss total from 2001 to now. Yet the figure does demonstrate that tax cuts -- especially those targeted for the wealthy -- aren't the be-all, end-all for economic and job growth.

"Taxes do not make the world go round," said Josh Bevins, an economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

Indeed, Bill Clinton's eight years as president -- which included a tax increase and higher tax rates (which current taxes would go back to if the Bush tax cuts aren't extended) -- produced more than 22 million jobs. By comparison, the number from Bush's eight years was just 1.8 million.

Curtis Dubay, a senior tax policy analyst at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, says it's unfair to compare the Clinton years (which included a technological boom and a time of relative peace) with the Bush years (which included 9/11, a financial crash, and two wars).

Dubay also argues that 2003 through 2007 created nearly 7 million jobs -- a sign that the tax cuts grew the U.S. economy. "That is when growth took off" from the tax cuts, he said.

But Bevins counters that the 2003-2007 economic expansion -- especially regarding jobs -- was weak compared with other expansions in a business cycle.

"The economic expansion was subpar across the board, except for corporate profits."