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Monday, February 02, 2009

Republicans, Iraq, and Santa Claus

A trillion dollars is a terrible thing to waste.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., on the $888 billion economic stimulus package.

Wicker's statement represents the Republican view of the stimulus package. Sadly for him, he's typical of a GOP senator; how he feels about spending depends entirely on which party is doing it. Like most of the remaining Republicans in the Senate, Wicker voted with Bush every time a bill dealing with the occupation of Iraq came up.

$1,000,000,000,000 may be a terrible thing to waste, but $3,000,000,000,000 is just fine. That three trillion dollar price tag is what the invasion and occupation of Iraq will have cost us before we're done -- and that's the conservative figure. Talk about your shovel-ready projects -- we've been shoveling money down a hole in Iraq, while Republicans in Washington shoveled BS on the American people. The difference here is that all that money does nothing for the US, let alone Iraq. It's just a big money-pile we've lit on fire. If it's changed American and Iraqi lives at all, it's changed them for the worse.

On This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. Jim DeMint debated the merits of the stimulus, with DeMint arguing in favor of tax cuts. Because eight years of tax cuts have been so good for the economy. To listen to DeMint, the stimulus is spending money to spend money.

"[D]on't say it's a stimulus when it's a government spending plan. And all of these things, the needs in our society, education, these are things we debate every year..." he said, "But this is the largest spending bill in history, and we're trying to call it a stimulus when it's just doing the things that... You wanted to do anyway." Frank decided that this would be a good time to resort to truth.

No tax cut builds a road. No tax cut puts a cop on the street. No tax cut educates a child...

The largest spending bill in history is going to turn out to be the war in Iraq. And one of the things, if we're going to talk about spending, I don't -- I have a problem when we leave out that extraordinarily expensive, damaging war in Iraq, which has caused much more harm than good, in my judgment.

And I don't understand why, from some of my conservative friends, building a road, building a school, helping somebody get health care, that's -- that's wasteful spending, but that war in Iraq, which is going to cost us over $1 trillion before we're through -- yes, I wish we hadn't have done that. We'd have been in a lot better shape fiscally.

"The problem is that we look at spending and say, 'Oh, don't spend on highways. Don't spend on health care. But let's build Cold War weapons to defeat the Soviet Union when we don't need them. Let's have hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars going to the military without a check,'" Franks said.

Of course, it's easy for Republicans in Washington to attack the stimulus to score cheap political points. But Republicans who have to deal with the real world don't have it so easy. Associated Press reports that "Most Republican governors have broken with their GOP colleagues in Congress and are pushing for passage of President Barack Obama's economic aid plan that would send billions to states for education, public works and health care," because state treasuries are "drained by the financial crisis." Many states have a balanced budget provision in their constitutions, which means that many states are facing an illegal shortfall. Here in Wisconsin we have such a provision and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle is facing the possibility of "furloughing prisoners, knocking poor children off Medicaid rolls and slashing school aids."

But Republicans in Washington are protected from the real world. They aren't responsible for balancing budgets or paying for programs. This leaves them free to demagogue tax cuts. DeMint's plan to stimulate the economy includes making the Bush tax cuts permanent, cutting the corporate tax rate, cut the capital gains tax, and cutting spending. In other words, the same old Republican same old. If this actually worked, wouldn't we be just fine right now?

At the heart of all of this is a Republican attempt to buy votes with tax cuts. This has been a cornerstone Republican political theory since Reagan. "[A]s the primary political theoretician of the supply-side camp, I began arguing the 'Two Santa Claus Theory' in 1974," wrote Wall Street Journal associate editor Jude Wanniski in 1999. "If the Democrats are going to play Santa Claus by promoting more spending, the Republicans can never beat them by promoting less spending. They have to promise tax cuts in order to grow the economy -- not to 'starve the government of revenue,' which is Milton Friedman's rationale."

Basically, Democrats had leftover New Deal programs like Social Security and Medicare to run on. Infrastructure spending and aid to states. Republicans could never win if they were just the party of "no" -- which is basically what they are. Democrats gave, Republicans took away. The idea was that no one would vote for someone who promised to take something away from them. Republicans had to do their own giving, thereby buying votes in the same way they thought Democrats were.

So tax cuts became the new Republican give-away. Always cut taxes, no matter what. And, if you cut taxes enough, you'll "starve the beast" and force government to cut spending. We saw it with Bush -- tax cuts were the cure for every ill. If the economy was doing well, as it was when Bush came into office, then you needed tax cuts to keep the economy going. If the economy was bad, you needed tax cuts to get it back on its feet. There is no situation where a Republican won't call for tax cuts. It doesn't matter whether or not it helps, all that matters is buying votes and forcing government to cut spending.

Recent history shows us that Republican economic theory -- deregulate, spend insane amounts of revenue on the military, and cut taxes -- doesn't work. Yet here they are, pretending the last eight years never happened.

"The Republicans got what they wanted from Wanniski's work," writes Thom Hartmann. "They held power for thirty years, made themselves trillions of dollars, cut organized labor's representation in the workplace from around 25 percent when Reagan came into office to around 8 of the non-governmental workforce today, and left such a massive deficit that some misguided 'conservative' Democrats are again clamoring to shoot Santa with working-class tax hikes and entitlement program cuts."

The question for Republicans isn't "what's good for the country?" The question Republicans ask is "what's good for us?"