Saturday, March 07, 2009

And you thought Herbert Hoover was dead?

OK, both the Obama administration and the Congressional Democrats are open to various sorts of criticism in terms of their response to the current economic crisis. (The criticisms come from different directions, and many of them are mutually contradictory, but some of them hit home.) But they are in a different league from the Congressional Republicans, whose response to the crisis has combined ideological delusion, empty rhetoric, and fundamental unseriousness to a degree that that is still sinking in.

(Some of the Republican governors are responding in a more serious and pragmatic way--but only some of them.)

The AP story below--"Top House Republican calls for spending freeze"--is not a spoof or a satire. What makes it especially astonishing is that this lunatic, antediluvian proposal to freeze US government spending in the face of a downward economic spiral toward depression (a view that was, admittedly, economically orthodox three-quarters of a century ago, but that sounds like a bad joke now) did not come from some talk-show crank, but from the leader of the House Republican Caucus.

Some readers may think that my use of the adjective "lunatic" is a bit overstated. Well, this was also the reaction of conservative columnist/pundit Devid Brooks: "A lot of Republicans up in Capitol Hill right now are calling for a spending freeze in a middle of a recession/depression. That is insane." You can listen to the video HERE, and Brooks spelled out his point in a New York Times column (HERE) that begins:
The Democratic response to the economic crisis has its problems, but let’s face it, the current Republican response is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate.
The rest of Brooks's column goes on to fantasize hopefully about what a constructive Republican response might look like. But whether or not you agree with his proposals, what is most telling is the simple fact that the spirit of Brooks's discussion bears no resemblance to the approach actually adopted by the Congressional Republicans, who have rallied (with just a few peripheral exceptions) to a combination of economic flat-earthism, irresponsible demagoguery, and straightforward obstructionism.

(Perhaps some readers will find that characterization a bit exaggerated, too. Well, consider this. Senator James DeMint [R-SC] proposed an amendment that would have scrapped the entire stimulus package and replaced it with permanent tax cuts--slanted, or course, toward the wealthiest taxpayers. No, I'm not making that up. OK, you'll say, that's just one isolated wacko. Actually, 36 out of the 41 Republican Senators voted for it, and one more abstained. And that's in the Senate, where the Republicans are supposed to be less extremist than in the House.)

Frankly, it's hard to disagree with Josh Marshall on this one:
Let's just stipulate DC Republicans are simply not part of the discussion when it comes to repairing the US economy or arresting our slide into deep economic misery. And any reporters who aren't clear about this are just lying to their readers or viewers. The latest Republican plan, in the face of today's new spike in unemployment, is a freeze on federal spending. I'm not even sure it's fair to say that this is a replay of the disastrous decisions the magnified the Great Depression between 1929 and 1933. It's more a parody of it. When the crisis is a rapid and catastrophic drop off in demand, you handcuff the one force that can create demand (i.e., the federal government) in the throes of the contraction. That's insane. Levels of stimulus are a decent question. Intensifying the contraction is just insane and frankly a joke. It's time to recognize that the only debate here is happening among Democrats and sundry non-affiliated sane people. The leaders of the GOP are simply not part of the conversation.
=> By the way, we should be fair to Herbert Hoover. As Brad DeLong carefully explains, Hoover was definitely not a bad or heartless man, just economically misinformed. But, to repeat, that was three-quarters of a century ago, the world had not yet gone through the experience of the Great Depression and its aftermath, John Maynard Keynes's insight about the role of counter-cyclical fiscal policy in helping to avert crashes had not yet sunk in, and so on. What is John Boehner's excuse?

--Jeff Weintraub

Associated Press
March 6, 2009
Top House Republican calls for spending freeze

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top Republican in the House is seizing on the latest spike in unemployment to call for a freeze on government spending and to urge President Barack Obama to veto a $410 billion spending bill.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the jump in unemployment to 8.1 percent and the loss of 651,000 jobs in February is a sign of a worsening recession that demands better solutions from both parties.

Boehner criticized the spending bill as chocked full of wasteful, pork-barrel projects. The Senate postponed a vote on the bill until Monday amid the criticism.

Boehner said he hoped Obama would veto the bill. He urged the president to work with House Republicans to impose a spending freeze until the end of this fiscal year.