Erixon is a junior rhetoric and politics major can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
That was one hell of a speech, Mr. President. Last week I said that these difficult times called for big changes in policy and temperament, and President Barack Obama has answered that call with force and vigor. His speech was refreshingly devoid of rhetorical flourishes, instead opting for a detailed defense of his bold policy proposals and a forceful challenge to Congress, imploring them to “pass this bill right away.”
Unfortunately for the more than 14 million unemployed Americans who would benefit from this package, it won’t be that easy, but before we get to that, let’s talk about the plan itself.
The approximately $450 billion bill is split up into about $200 billion of stimulus spending and $250 billion in tax cuts to be paid for by a deficit reduction package that the administration will release this week that purportedly offsets the entire cost of the stimulus in addition to cutting an extra $1.5 trillion from the deficit.
Some of the specific provisions include a $175 billion payroll tax cut for workers and small businesses, $35 billion in aid to cities and states to avoid layoffs and $25 billion for school construction. On top of that it has close to $60 billion in transportation and infrastructure investments, a $49 billion extension of unemployment insurance benefits and an $8 billion tax credit for companies that hire the long term unemployed.
As Obama said in his speech, nothing about this legislation is controversial. Everything in his plan, from the payroll tax cut to the investments in infrastructure, has received bipartisan support in the past. Both parties have repeatedly declared that job creation is their first legislative priority, and this is the only specific and detailed plan from either party that actually accomplishes that goal.
Americans are begging for action in the employment crisis, and the politicians on both sides of the aisle are slipping in the polls because the people have grown impatient with rhetoric and weary of partisanship. In other words, this plan is a no-brainer.
But does that mean it will become law? Not if the Republicans in Congress have their way. The Republican position on economic policy and stimulus policy in particular has always been a moving target.
As Paul Krugman pointed out last Friday, as far back as 2009 Republicans in the House were supportive of stimulus efforts, but they favored a monetary policy approach, or one led by the Federal Reserve, to a fiscal policy approach and when it came to fiscal policy they preferred that it consist of tax cuts rather than temporary spending.
This is not the case anymore. As the tea party grew in power and as the Republican Party lurched to the right, their positions changed and their attitudes toward the Fed shifted dramatically. The idea that the Fed should be dismantled was once the trademark of eccentrics and radicals, but now it is trendy to paint any action the Fed might take to help ease unemployment as “treasonous.” Additionally, while the old Republican Party would have jumped at a Democrat’s proposal to cut taxes, especially for working people and small businesses, they are now only supportive of taxes aimed at the wealthiest Americans and the largest corporations.
What can explain this major change in Republican orthodoxy? Has there been an ideological shift in the basic tenants of the conservative movement? Has the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision made politicians more susceptible to the wealthiest interests? While I am sure that these and other explanations have contributed in some way to the seismic shift in American politics over the last three years, I think that the root of this opposition is much simpler and far more sinister.
It is politics, pure and simple political decision making that led the Republican Party down this path. The ideological opinions of the conservative base will shift with time and circumstance, and interest groups will forever engage in a battle for the ear of those in power, but politicians will always be governed by two simple concerns: how will something affect their constituents and how will something affect their political fortunes.
In this regard, I believe there has been a shift. If Republicans truly felt that economic recovery was their first legislative priority they would pass this bill today, but they won’t, because their first legislative priority is not economic recovery, it is political recovery. They want the White House back. And if that means that 14 million Americans will have to suffer through a year and a half of a stagnant economy and a sputtering recovery, that’s just the cost of doing business. I am reminded of the words of one particular governor who just a few weeks ago said “to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but agree with him.