Friday, January 30, 2009

I've been blogging a lot less about politics lately, but part of the reason for that is the fact that our current economic crisis is the primary issue facing our new president at the moment, and I will readily admit that I have very little understanding of business or economics, so I've mostly seen little reason to add my voice to the discourse, since I have little to add. That being said, it struck me as strange when the House recently passed the new $819 billion economic recovery package, but without a single GOP vote. The purported reason given by Republican lawmakers for rejecting the stimulus package was that they all thought that tax cuts alone would be a better way to stimulate the economy rather than engaging in a spending plan, and that the economic stimulus package had too much pork in it.
On one level I understand this. Republicans are supposed to be the party of small government (although the Bush administration spent money like crazy and rang up a massive deficit) and as a general rule are not supposed to support heavy goverment spending. On the other hand, however, not one single vote? This seems crazy to me for several reasons.
One, we already passed an economic stimulus package under Bush (as well as providing a number of bailouts to "can't fail" businesses), and that stimulus package was passed with bipartisan support. This indicates to me that at least part of the reason the GOP legislators are resistant to the new stimulus plan has more to do with who's presenting it than whether or not they think a stimulus plan can work (and Obama has made it clear that he's willing to accept Republican input on how the form that a stimulus package should take. The GOP is simply refusing to participate without offering a realistic alternative solution).
Second, we've already had 8 years of tax cuts for big business and the upper class, and those tax cuts certainly didn't keep the economy on track. And now, during a recession, the tendency for both businesses and individuals is going to be to sit on and protect whatever money they receive while riding out the economic storm, including money in the form of tax cuts, rather than spending that money. Without the spending, of course, the economy isn't going to improve. The credit markets are frozen and money isn't available for borrowing, so an injection of cash into the economy in the form of an economic stimulus plan (which would involve money that has to be spent) seems to be at least one plausbile way to get the economy going again. I understand that the GOP sees some of this spending as "pork", but Obama has repeatedly asked for input on how the money should be spent, so Republicans ought to feel free to weigh in on this in order to feel more secure about the bill (they certainly didn't seem to all have a problem spending money when it came to giving Wall Street a big bailout, and they've been pumping money into the Iraq War effort [and, in turn, contractors like Haliburton] for years). I would be open to other ideas (and frankly, the idea of such a massive stimulus plan does make me nervous), but are simple tax cuts a realistic way of approaching the extremely unusual situation that we now find ourselves in? It seems unlikely.
I think that the GOP is simply closing ranks in order to let the president take all of the heat if this stimulus package fails. If the package succeeds, they will find reasons other than the stimulus package to give credit for the nation's economic recovery, and if the plan fails (which, incidentally, means that the country continues to do worse and worse), they will sit back and congratulate each other for the fact that they refused to take part in the recovery effort. A more noble method of proceeding might be to negotiate for terms that the Republicans see as more favorable in the package (tax cuts of $275 billion have already been incorporated into the package, in part as a concession to GOP interests), but the Republicans clearly think that they will gain a tactical political advantage by refusing to participate. I hope that the public keeps in mind the fact that when our country faced this crisis, the GOP did nothing to help (or to offer realistic alternative solutions).
I can believe that there are GOP congressman who are truly, strongly against any more federal spending on a stimulus package on principle alone (I'm looking in your direction, Ron Paul), but I think others are simply falling into lockstep with the GOP plan of passive resistance and hoping that the president fails (which kind of makes me sick, because, of course, the country will have to suffer quite a bit in order for them to try to prove their point).
I wish the president the best of luck with this stimulus package. It's a bold, daring move, and I'm sure he's really not very excited about having to go forward with it (it involves a fair amount of political risk for him), but I respect the fact that he clearly feels that sitting back and letting the country sink further toward depression is not a viable option.

Monday update: I'm much happier with the way that Senate Republicans seem to be approaching this issue. They have said that they're not happy with all of the spending provisions in the bill, but instead of just solidly voting to obstruct the bill, they're saying that they're going to work with Democrats to remove items from the stimulus package that they see as pork. Democrat and Republican senators have already been at work, trimming up the stimulus bill and trying to make sure that the stimulus package directly targets job creation and economic growth.

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