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09.21.11

The Party of Predators

The GOP's letter to Fed chief Ben Bernanke, telling him to lay off the stimulus, shows the party will gladly screw the American people for political gain.

Two fresh news items arrive to remind us again how extreme today’s Republican Party is in both its policies and its tactics. If on this point I’m getting to sound like a broken record (when will we have to retire that metaphor?), sorry, but I’m not the one who cracked the vinyl. So I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it, as the song says, until that fabled hard rain falls and washes these reprobates out to sea.

In The New York Times, Adam Nagourney reports that California Gov. Jerry Brown has been shocked at how different the state’s Republicans are, on both tactical and substantive grounds, from how they were during his first term back in the 1970s. The tactical intransigence isn’t surprising; that’s all Republicans do. But one episode is reported in which Brown was making a simple factual assertion to a GOP lawmaker about how a majority of the state’s education budget does not go to administrative overhead. And the lawmaker refused to accept it.

Remember back to when Brown took office. His state was staring at a $25 billion hole. He proposed a perfectly fair solution: $12.5 billion in cuts, and $12.5 billion in revenue. No one was necessarily thrilled, but who could possibly say that it wasn’t fair? Fifty-fifty is what we’re taught from kindergarten.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. The cuts, of course, were enacted—Democrats always give the Republicans the cuts first in order to seem “reasonable” and to cajole them into playing nice. Some better-than-anticipated revenue streams reduced the deficit to around $10 billion. The revenue measures, of course, went nowhere, notably a proposed extension of current vehicle- and sales-tax rates for which, naturally, zero Republican votes materialized. Brown “is aghast,” a longtime associate told Nagourney. “He reports on some of the conversations like he couldn’t believe the narrowness or lack of comprehending by public officials.”

That’s just normal Republican crazy. Our second item is abnormal Republican crazy, even for this infamous bunch. The four GOP congressional leaders—John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, and Jon Kyl—sent a letter to Fed chair Ben Bernanke warning him against further intervention in the economy. They released the letter the day before the Fed is to announce its next steps Wednesday afternoon. “We have serious concerns,” the letter said, “that further intervention by the Federal Reserve could exacerbate current problems or further harm the U.S. economy.” What that sentence actually means, of course, is that they have serious concerns that an interventionist monetary policy might help the economy in the next 14 months, and thereby help Barack Obama’s reelection chances.

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Counterclockwise from top left: McConnell, Boehner, Cantor (foreground), and Bernanke. (AP Photos (3); Getty Images (Bernake))

As the blogger Stan Collender, one of Washington’s leading budgetary experts, noted yesterday, the Republicans have now covered both bases. Their first dose of poison to the economy has been to ensure that the federal government can’t do anything via legislation to spur economic growth and activity. As with the sentence from the letter above, the way to translate Republican-speak is to assume that the truth is the exact opposite of what they say. So when they say things like “the government can’t create jobs,” they actually know very well that the government can create jobs and can do so rather efficiently and easily, provided that Congress passes, say, a bill providing direct funding for jobs, which could put millions of people to work. So their task, in the name of preventing a Democrat from being a successful president, has been to ensure that Congress do all it can to keep the economy in dismal shape.

Meeting today’s GOP halfway is like letting a sexual predator take your clothes off. You haven’t been touched yet, but things are unlikely to end happily for you.

And now comes the second dose. If the government can’t create jobs legislatively, then perhaps it can do so through monetary policy. This letter very clearly is meant to pressure Bernanke not to try anything sneaky that might actually lower the unemployment rate before the election. From Robert Reich, on his blog: “To say it’s unusual for a political party to try to influence the Fed is an understatement. When I was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, it was considered a serious breach of etiquette—not to say potentially economically disastrous—even to comment publicly about the Fed. Everyone understood how important it is to shield the nation’s central bank from politics.”

In the face of things like this, it’s supposed to be controversial that Obama has decided to stop trying to meet the Republicans halfway? Meeting today’s GOP halfway is like letting a sexual predator take your clothes off. You haven’t been touched yet, but things are unlikely to end happily for you. Jerry Brown has learned the hard way. Obama took far too long to figure this out, but even he beats those in Washington, in the media and the think tanks and elsewhere, who still fantasize about everybody coming together around Bowles-Simpson. The predators will never stop—but for the good of the country, their enablers must.