If making the economy worse will hurt Obama,
what Republican cares about collateral damage?
Charles Babington asks that question in the first paragraph of his he said/she said
Saturday on whether Republicans are out to sabotage the economy in hopes of hurting Obama. The question keeps being asked against the clear evidence that this is precisely what's going on and against polling evidence that half the country, including a lot of Republicans, believe the GOP is doing just that.
It started in earnest four days before Barack Obama took the oath of office in January 2009 when the shadow chief of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, said, "I hope he fails." Though not stated again so brazenly, GOP efforts to bring about that failure have been going on ever since then on a whole range of issues. But particularly on the economy the Republicans have sought to ensure that Obama does fail.
It started with the stimulus package, the Keynesian boost meant to slow and then reverse the plunge the economy took in the last year of the Bush administration. And it's happened repeatedly from then on, through several renewals of extended unemployment benefits, through a focus on deficit and austerity practices so incessant that many Democrats and Obama himself felt compelled to announce their own lite versions, through attacks on public sector workforces and their union clout, through weakening proposals for already mild financial sector regulations, through economic hostage taking to maintain reduced taxes (which were creating much of the loss in revenue driving higher deficits) and through pushing the Paul Ryan budget that would make the wreckage of the Great Recession look like happy times by comparison.
And then there was the threatened government shutdown over raising the federal debt ceiling, a raise that had occurred five times without eliciting a smidge of Republican opposition during the Bush administration.
Despite the damage the threat of a shutdown created last time the Republicans did it, including damage to their own reputations, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and other Democrats think that's where the GOP leadership may now be headed again. That view, Babington wrote, was kindled by House Speaker John Boehner's saying last week that the next time raising the debt ceiling comes up, he'll once again be pushing for sharp spending cuts before agreeing on the deal.
That, of course, means chopping things like clean energy initiatives that bolster a growing industry that can provide vast numbers of new jobs in both goods and services as well as cutting programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits that help tide people over in sour economic times. (No cuts in Pentagon spending, however; on the contrary.)
The latest stall is on the Bush tax cuts. Come January, those expire, including the ridiculous cuts on the wealthiest Americans. The Republican argument is that coming to agreement now will give investors and businesses confidence about their future tax load and encourage them to create more jobs. How many times have we heard this siren song only to be dashed upon the shoals of GOP intransigence?
Deciding now on the future of those cuts might well be a good idea, economically speaking. A case can be made for keeping some cuts in place for another year or so for people who aren't in the top economic tiers. Returning tens of millions of Americans to a greater income tax burden while the economic recovery is still exceedingly fragile could easily stall it out.
But those middle-class cuts are not what really concerns Republicans. It's the cuts for the wealthiest they want intact—preparatory to slicing off a few more percentage points. They refuse to seriously discuss letting the cuts expire for the most affluent Americans at a time of obscene income inequality and obscene attention to the deficit that will be made worse by keeping those unnecessary, unfair and unproductive top-level cuts in place. Unwillingness to put those cuts on the table sabotages efforts to break the economy out of its sluggish advance.
In the upsidedown world they and their puppet-pundits inhabit, Republicans bellyache that the blockade to dealing with the tax cuts and other aspects of the economy isn't the GOP's doing but Obama's. So, all the while they are dropping their various clogs into the economic machinery, they pretend publicly that it's the Democrats and the man they think should never have been in the White House who are holding things up. That's sabotage, pure and simple. With no question marks.