"How is this not the biggest political scandal in modern American history? How is it that those who claim the high ground on patriotism could put our financial well being on the line, on purpose, when they don’t have to?" -- Steve BenenSteve Benen, author of an essential blog at Washington Monthly, Political Animal, has written a series of incisive posts the last few days about the unprincipled, illogical and disgraceful conduct of Congressional Republicans, who appear perfectly willing to gamble away our country's economic well-being for the sake of ideological purity and perceived political gain.
While the Republicans nonsensically contend that the dismal job numbers stem from profligate federal spending, Benen wonders how they could have any credibility when it comes to diagnosing what ails the economy given their "uninterrupted track record of failure."
In 1982, conservative Republicans said Reagan’s tax increases would cause a disaster (they didn’t). In 1993, conservative Republicans said Clinton’s tax increases would invariably fail (they didn’t). In 2009, conservative Republicans said Obama’s stimulus would make the economy worse (it didn’t). And in 2001, conservative Republicans said Bush’s tax cuts would cause a remarkable economic boom (they didn’t). In 2003, these same conservative Republicans said more Bush tax cuts would do the trick (they didn’t). In 2010, these same conservative Republicans said if we could just keep those Bush tax cuts around a little more, we’d be amazed at the economic turnaround in 2011.As Ezra Klein noted, the Republican approach to tax policy “is no longer based on any recognizable economic theory.” To which Benen replies: "Of course not. Who needs economic models, egghead academics, and evidence when the GOP has a religious-like certainty in a policy based solely on ideology?"
But not only do these right wing zealots continue to maintain credibility, they completely control the debate in Washington. With weak growth and high unemployment, there should be more borrowing, more spending, more stimulus to generate demand. (See Economics For Dummies.) Instead, the focus remains solely on fiscal responsibility and reducing the deficit. Republicans want spending cuts and Democrats want to include some tax increases along with less draconian spending cuts. And not only is increased spending that could actually create jobs off the table, the Republicans are refusing to agree to raise the debt ceiling if even minor tax increases are included.
Benen explains in another post why any reasonable deal is impossible: We have a Republican Party, unrivaled in their discipline and ideological coherence, which as a matter of principle refuses to compromise. He cites Nate Silver's piece in the Times, in which Silver demonstrates how the “the Republican Party is dependent, to an extent unprecedented in recent political history, on a single ideological group. That group, of course, is conservatives." And these conservatives are so extreme that they "have begun announcing their opposition to their own ideas, the moment Democrats express a degree of support, and we’re left with a party that won’t, and probably can’t, give an inch on anything."
And the Democrats? Benen states that "self-described liberals are growing as a percentage of the Democratic electorate, but self-identified moderates are still the plurality, and the combined total of moderates and conservative Democrats represent a majority." He references data on Democratic and Republican voter preferences and drives home the point that "Democrats are pragmatic and want accomplishments; Republicans are dogmatic and want ideological purity."
And so there you have it. Benen contends that "the United States has a manageable debt, low interest rates, low inflation, and the ability to borrow on the cheap. But because right-wing extremists are chiseling away at our political system, we’re quickly approaching a point of no return." As he notes, even the editorial board of a conservative publication like the Economist understands what a "cynical political game" the GOP is playing:
The sticking-point is not on the spending side. It is because the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.As Benen says: "Voters perceived the Republican Party as a conservative governing party, capable of responsible center-right governance, and rewarded the GOP handsomely in 2010. What voters probably didn’t understand are the similarities between today’s Republican Party and a not-terribly-bright organized-crime family, run entirely by petulant children.