Monday, February 21, 2011

Still crazy after all these years?

It's said that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

I don't want to call the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives crazy, but if the shoe fits...

There's a fairly good chance that we're headed for another government shut down in the next few weeks. Like the one in 1995, it will be precipitated by the Republican House unwilling to compromise and negotiate with a Democratic president over the budget.

The 1995 fiasco blunted the momentum of 1994's GOP "revolution,” put then President Bill Clinton on the comeback trail and guaranteed that he'd be re-elected fairly easily in 1996. Although some Republicans are quick to say that Clinton was responsible for that government shut down, it's a fact that Republicans took the blame.

They'll take the blame this time too. One reason for that is that so many of them are willing to go on the cable and network chat shows and appear to be salivating at the prospect of shutting down the government.

Since Barack Obama is already better situated, in terms of job approval ratings, than Clinton was in early 1995 and because Republicans have no clear favorite to rally around for 2012, Obama's re-election chances will greatly improve if Republicans force a show down.

The odd things is, Republicans seemed to recognize this oncoming train, but still failed to get out of the way.

After winning control of the House last November Republicans, including new Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-7th), said they'd learned from the mistakes Republicans made the last time they were in the majority. Cantor, in particular, said he didn't believe the Republicans had won a mandate for their philosophy, but instead had benefited from an electorate unhappy with the Democrats.

He said that the voters would be watching the GOP with a wary eye. All indications are that Cantor was right.

He and other Republican leaders swore that, once in office, their first priority would be job creation and getting the economy turned around.

That would have been a good choice because polling shows those are far and away the issues that most Americans are concerned about.

But it's not where Republicans have centered their efforts.

First, they launched a symbolic effort to repeal health care reform, although they knew they didn't have the votes to pull that off. That's okay, that was a campaign promise and they owed the Tea Party voters who'd put them into office at least that much.

But once that was done, did they go about their proclaimed mission of helping the economy and creating jobs?

No. They started filing a lot of bills on social issues. Concerned that the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortions, didn't quite ban it enough they attempted to redefine the word "rape" in the federal code to preclude what's often called "date rape."

I can't recall any Republican candidates running last year on the platform of redefining rape.

Just as they did in 1994, Republicans have filed a lot of bills dealing with abortion, guns and immigration. None of those are among the top items voters say they want to see addressed.

None of them was even very important for the Tea Party.

The one area where the new Republican House has tried to toe the Tea Party line is the one that may be about to get them in a lot of trouble with the rest of the country politically. That's cutting spending.

The Tea Party, and thus the Republican Party, is very concerned about the federal budget deficit.

That's not surprising. Any time we have a Democratic president and a deficit, Republicans become fiscally conservative and swear that debt will bring down the country.

That's despite the fact that former Vice President Dick Cheney said, "the one thing we learned in the Reagan administration is that deficits don't matter." I assume what Cheney meant was "when we have a Republican president deficits don't matter."

Because they certainly didn't matter to Republicans during Reagan's presidency. Or George H.W. Bush's. Or George W. Bush's. In fact, deficits were so unimportant during the last administration that Congress let the president -- for the first time in the nation's history -- cut taxes while we were at war.

But, since we now have a Democratic president, deficits matter again.

And the fact is that the deficit does matter. But it isn’t the only thing that matters. There's nothing wrong with debt that builds infrastructure that we'll need to be economically competitive in the future. There's also nothing wrong with taking on debt temporarily to get the economy moving again. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's has cited both those principles in pushing his $4 billion roads plan, largely paid for with debt.

After all, the best way to reduce the deficit is to grow the economy. That's how Clinton -- and a Republican Congress -- created a surplus in the 1990s.

Thrift is a virtue in times of poor harvests. But there's difference between thrift and eating your seed corn, which is just cheap, short sighted and ultimately counter productive.

That's the case with the Republicans insistence on cutting $100 billion out of the rest of this fiscal year’s budget. They've decided to take it all out of discretionary domestic spending. That means deep cuts in programs like home hearing assistance and community block grants. It means scoring points with the Tea Party folks at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable Americans.

That seems particularly mean-spirited when Republicans just got through fighting for the country's top earners to keep the huge tax break Bush gave them in a time of war. Those are the same top earners who have seen their share of the nation's wealth increase dramatically over the last 30 years. They not only expect other people's kids to fight their wars, they aren't even patriotic enough anymore to be willing to pay taxes to fund those wars.

Obama compromised with Republicans on the Bush tax cuts. He's compromising too on spending cuts. He's proposed a budget that will cut about $1 trillion out of the deficit in ten years. That proposal wasn't made without making cuts unpopular with the president's own constituency.

That's why he, like Clinton, is going to emerge from the battle of the budget looking like the sober adult, while Republicans, as they did in 1995, run the risk of looking like spoiled children.

Or worse.

Some Republicans are actually proposing a fight with the president over extending the country's debt capacity later this spring. If that happened, the country might have to default on some of its debt.

China, which holds a lot of our debt, doesn't need to worry. If what Republicans have done and are doing at the state level is any indication, China will get their money. Federal retirees and employees and Social Security recipients will be the ones left holding the bag. That, to some Republicans on the Tea Party fringe, seems like a good idea.

To the rest of us, that seems like an all-too-familiar insanity.

Cross Posted at All Politics Is Local

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