Nestled in the list of small-business initiatives that President Barack Obama announced in the State of the Union address was a measure providing incentives to small firms that hire employees and raise wages.

The details of the initiative, which Mr. Obama is expected to highlight when he visits Baltimore today, include a $5,000 tax credit for every net new employee in 2010 [bold mine-DL]. This credit would be retroactive to the beginning of the calendar year and could be received on a quarterly basis, if the business so chooses. In addition, employers would receive a tax credit to cover Social Security payroll taxes on wage increases. ~The Wall Street Journal

Pence called a White House plan to offer tax credits to small businesses the “Jimmy Carter tax credit,” arguing that it could provide incentives for employers to lay off employees [bold mine-DL]. Although Republicans have criticized Democrats for doing too much too fast, Pence called the plan a continuation of the “small ball” economic policies from Democrats in Congress and the White House.

“I don’t think we should be looking to the economic policies of the Carter administration to get us out of the worst recession in 25 years,” Pence said. ~Politico

Yesterday I said that the GOP remains just as intellectually bankrupt and unimaginative as ever, but I need to amend that in light of Pence’s comments. If possible, the GOP has somehow managed to become even worse than it was in previous years. How else can you explain the desperate bid to reframe tax credits for small business as a job-killing measure? It is tax credits similar to these that the Republicans normally advocate as a matter of course, and it was this sort of thing that Republicans were demanding more of last year during the debate over the stimulus bill. Instead of recognizing this and trying to claim that the administration has adopted one of his party’s solutions, Pence is reduced to the absurdity of claiming that possible tax reduction on businesses that hire new employees is some revival of the dreaded Carter years.

Pence does not attack these credits for being insufficient, nor does he attack them for being unaffordable. He doesn’t even resort to the old favorite of complaining that the tax code is already too complicated and needs to be radically simplified. To make a coherent critique of the measure, Pence could have said any of those things. Instead, he started talking about someone who’s been out of office almost thirty years and who has nothing to do with the current proposal. Plus, he is arguing that tax reduction creates disincentives for growth.

Remarking on Obama’s upcoming meeting with House Republicans, Pence said:

There has been a perception greatly propagated by the majority in Congress and many in the administration to suggest that we are the party of no ideas.

Who could have given them that impression? It certainly couldn’t have been Mike Pence and his heroic resistance to Jimmy Carter tax credits!

Let’s remember that Pence is not some minor member of the minority. He is the House Republican conference chair, the third highest-ranking Republican in that chamber, and he recently decided not to pursue a Senate bid against Evan Bayh in order to re-build a Republican majority in the House. If this is what he has to offer in his current role, perhaps it would have been better for the GOP if he had tried his luck back home in Indiana.

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