The President took to the airwaves to pound Republican Senators for obstructionism, pointing to the filibuster against the extension of unemployment benefits and the lack of action on a small business tax relief bill. The President and the Democrats have been lectured repeatedly by the Republicans on the evils of deficit spending, and without question they have driven up the short term deficit to deal with the mess that was inherited. The idea of applying fiscal stimulus in the type of situation that President Obama found himself in on inauguration day used to be settled economic policy, but I guess that is now heresy in the Republican Party.
The Republicans seem to have two points on deficits that they like to make. The first is a sheepish admission that while they controlled Congress and the Presidency they ran up huge deficits. But they have learned their lesson. Back then it was just “standard practice” to not pay for things. From the Washington Monthly.
“it was standard practice not to pay for things,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “We were concerned about it, because it certainly added to the deficit, no question.” His 2003 vote has been vindicated, Hatch said, because the prescription drug benefit “has done a lot of good.”
Standard practice indeed. Let us not forget that President Bush inherited a balanced federal budget from President Clinton, and piled on tax cuts while enacting a huge new entitlement with the prescription drug benefit, and allowing borrowing to fund the waging of two wars. But that hypocrisy is now over, according to Republicans. They are ready to stand tall against deficit spending. Which brings us to the present.
Point two of the Republican position on deficit spending is that tax cuts that add to the deficit need not concern us. Yes it apparently is sound fiscal policy to increase the deficit by cutting taxes, but unsound to increase the deficit to extend unemployment benefits. The Republican leadership in the Senate has made their position clear. From the Huffington Post:
“[Y]ou should never raise taxes in order to cut taxes,” said the Arizona Senator during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “Surely Congress has the authority, and it would be right to — if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the cost of increased spending, and that’s what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.”
So the next time Republicans lecture about the deficit it should be clear that the hypocrisy of their position is extraordinary.
The Republicans deserve to be whipped on the deficit, but the Democrats continue to lose the political fight on this issue. And the reason they continue to lose is that they are not showing the public that they consider this a serious issue. They have not explained the difference between the benefits of short term spending and the real tough decisions that lie ahead for the country on this. And while the President has put together a deficit commission over the objections of Republicans the report will not be issued until after the November elections. The Democrats also need to realize that even for good causes like unemployment benefits being extended they cannot just ignore the deficit as an issue. They need to deal with the continuing assault that has been launched by Republicans, and spend some time and political capital fighting back on this.
Read the Washington Monthly posting here.
Read the Washington Post story here.
Read the Globe article on Scott Brown filing his own unemployment bill here.