Thursday, September 30, 2010

David Leonhardt sums up the Republicans' economic program

The New York Times's very intelligent economic writer David Leonhardt examines the Congressional Republicans' so-called Pledge to America and works his way to the following conclusion:
[W]hen politicians tell you that they are opposed to tax increases, Medicare cuts, Social Security cuts and military cuts, they’re really saying that they are in favor of crippling deficits.
Ever since Obama's election, the Republicans have been noisily pretending to be "fiscal conservatives" committed to reducing the federal deficit (which they massively expanded between 1980 and the present). But what their stated commitments actually add up to is this:
In their Pledge to America, Congressional Republicans have used the old trick of promising specific tax cuts and vague spending cuts. It’s the politically easy approach, and it is likely to be as bad for the budget as when George W. Bush tried it.
Or, as the right-of-center columnist Clive Crook, who really is seriously concerned about bringing the long-term federal deficit under control, put it in August:
Right now the party’s position is to reject every meaningful spending cut and any and all tax increases. That is not fiscal responsibility. It is complete nonsense.
Both Crook and Leonhardt make a partial exception for Paul Ryan as the One Honest Congressional Republican. (Leonhardt adds some Republicans who aren't now in Congress, including nut-case Tea Party candidates for the Senate like Sharron Angle in Nevada, Joe Miller in Alaska, and Rand Paul in Kentucky, who at least have the courage of their extremist convictions, along with a few Republican governors.) But even this partial concession is actually far too generous to Ryan—for reasons that Ryan Avent, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, and the Tax Policy Center, among others, have pointed out.

=> The Republican economic "program" may be fraudulent and nonsensical in terms of substantive policy, as Crook said. But in terms of partisan politics, leading up to the November elections, it seems to be serving them pretty well. This should worry all of us—not just Democrats and progressives. By pursuing an effective strategy of almost monolithic obstructionism, Congressional Republicans have been able to do a great deal of harm despite having a minority in both houses and no constructive policies of their own. If these people get control of Congress in the fall, which is not at all impossible, we are all in terrible trouble.

--Jeff Weintraub