[credit provider=”AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall”]
A couple of months ago, when the Republican Party suddenly got serious about America’s debt-and-deficit problem after ignoring it for a decade, the suspicion among cynics was that this newfound religion was just a convenient way to get President Obama fired and themselves reelected.After all, swing voters vote with their wallets, and if the unemployment rate is as high in a year as it is now, Obama’s probably toast in 2012.
But this charge–that Republicans would put their own re-election campaigns ahead of the well-being of millions of Americans by intentionally tanking the economy–seemed a stretch, even given the ethics of Washington.
Couldn’t it be that Republicans actually believed that suddenly cutting government spending and never raising taxes would solve the debt-and-deficit problem and help the economy–despite the ample evidence from across the pond that “austerity” doesn’t help balance budgets or turbocharge economies?
Yes, it could be, said those who had faith in their elected representatives. The Republicans actually believed this. That’s why they were willing to force the US into default rather than raise the debt ceiling so the government could fund the spending they had already approved.
Well, as the debt-ceiling debate went down to the wire, it became clear that at least some Republicans–the Tea Party kind–would happily have tanked the economy to advance their own political goals (how else to explain the crazy voting of folks like Michele Bachmann, who actually wanted to put the country into default?). But perhaps the mainstream Republicans weren’t so selfish and venal.
I was curious about the Administration’s view of this, so I recently put the question to a senior administration official:
Were the Republicans intentionally trying to tank the economy to get Obama fired?
Remarkably, the senior administration official said he thought not. He said that House Speaker Boehner had actually wanted to get a “grand bargain” debt-ceiling deal done but that he he had been stymied by the new crazy people in the Republican party. And the rest of the mainstream Republicans, the senior administration official said–folks who were reasonable enough to consider some tax increases–were too spineless to stand up to Bachmann, et al. And, yes, those folks also wanted to get re-elected.
Well, this was a charitable view. I left the conversation feeling better about our elected representatives. Perhaps, for the most part, they actually were putting the country first.
But then I saw today’s news that the Republicans are planning to block Obama’s proposal to extend the payroll tax cuts.
Wait, what? Suddenly, the Republicans want to raise taxes? What happened to all that rhetoric about how it was insane to raise taxes in the middle of a weak economy?
Could it be that raising payroll taxes would just mean raising taxes on poor and middle-class people and raising taxes on poor people is fine with Republicans? Is that why it’s OK?
Or is it that raising taxes at the end of this year will create a drag on the economy in the critical election year, thus adding a tailwind to the Republicans’ effort to get re-elected (or, in the case of the White House, elected)?
Which is it? Which taxes are Republicans actually for and against? I love this newfound commitment to fiscal responsibility–the drunken-spending-plus-tax-cuts of the past decade has been infuriating–but I can’t handle the inconsistency.
Republicans, please convince me that you’re not JUST in favour of cutting taxes for rich people and cutting spending that helps poor people.
And just as important, please convince me that you’re not intentionally trying to tank the economy so you can get (re)elected!