Felicia Muftic " Games Republicans play
February 8, 2009
With an economic crisis picking up speed and size like a snowball turning into an avalanche, the Super Bowl was a world class diversion. The Cardinals could have won if they had not been penalized for so much yardage. At the risk of trivializing the mess we are in, I found some parallels in the heated debate about the stimulus plan slogging its way through Congress. Republicans tried some tactical ploys that deserved some hefty yardage penalties.
– Faking a foul or making a mountain out of a molehill. To hear the Republicans on talk shows, I’ll bet you would have thought that one half of the “stimulus” package was nothing but non-job-creating spending pet projects . Here is the molehill: the inclusion of provisions specifically objected to by Republicans added up to less than 1 percent of the total stimulus.
– Trash talking and unsportsmanlike conduct. You, too, could be “pork.” Or, worse, a “socialist” since Republicans broadened the definition of these scary words to the point of absurdity. According to some Republicans, all direct federal government spending slated for state governments is pork, especially if it has anything to do with education. Cut it out, they said. If your job or a job you covet depends on any state funding that is subject to budget slashing, such as teachers, public safety officers, and highway construction workers, or you were hoping to send a kid to college on a Pell grant, heads up.
Economists have said that the most efficient method of funneling federal government spending is through state governments, because they already have the mechanism in place to put the money to work immediately. Sadly, it was $40 billion in aid to states that was cut out in the Senate compromise, most of it having to do with education.
The stimulus bill was “socialism,” proclaimed a prominent Republican, because “it contained some social programs.” If he meant he objected to extending Medicaid or unemployment insurance to the unemployed, shame on him. I guess he would prefer the soup kitchen lines and hobo jungles of the 1930s.
“There is proof that government spending is not an economic stimulus because the New Deal failed,” proclaimed another Republican. Oh really? It was the kind of failure that the voters kept the Democrats in power for the next 20 years. Nearly all economists on the right and the left say that when we are in a recessionary period, that is the time for government spending, even if it runs up the deficit. However, Republicans have chosen to ignore the experts in the name of being true to the same ideological approach to economic theories that got us into this mess. Does anyone think that more of the same will get us something different?
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– Intentional grounding. By “just saying no,” Republicans feared they would be accused of obstructionism. They came up with a sound-good, questionable substitute … keeping the 40 percent of the bill that related to tax cuts to the middle class and cutting out the 60 percent that pertained to spending. They based their sales pitch on a misguided belief that by putting money in the form of increased take home pay or a tax credit in the hands of consumers, jobs would be created quickly.
When consumers are in debt and fear job loss and when businesses have large inventories in their warehouses, as they do now, that increased take home pay of $400 per household and a lump sum credit already included in the stimulus bill will not be spent by many at Alco. As Martin Feldstein, conservative economists and adviser to Republicans in Congress, wrote in the Washington Post, January 29:
“That’s not a good way to increase consumer spending. Experience shows that the money from such temporary, lump-sum tax cuts is largely saved or used to pay down debt. Only about 15 percent of last year’s tax rebates led to additional spending.”
– Delay of game: Some Republicans wanted to delay the process for months to make sure they “got it right.” Translation from Republicanese: “We will hold the bill hostage by filibuster until it gets done our way.” Almost all economists say we are in a crisis now, but if we do not act quickly, we will have a catastrophe. These are no “‘Chicken Little’s” talking. What are the Republicans waiting for, the sky to fall in?
– Unnecessary roughness: Ignoring the coaching from their own experts, the Republicans were on a mission to make sure bipartisanship would not succeed. Heaven forbid they should contribute in any way to President Obama’s getting the game ball on that issue. Were it not for a few Republican senators from states that went blue in November and who were looking over their shoulders at the next election, they might have gotten away with it.
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