By Michael Cohen - In recent days, Democrats have started coming out and saying publicly what many have been mumbling privately for years – Republicans are so intent on defeating President Obama for re-election that they are purposely sabotaging the country's economic recovery. These charges are now being levied by Democrats such as Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Obama's key political adviser, David Axelrod.
For Democrats, perhaps the most obvious piece of evidence of GOP premeditated malice is the 2010 quote from Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell:
"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
Such words lead some to the conclusion that Republicans will do anything, including short-circuiting the economy, in order to hurt Obama politically. Considering that presidents – and rarely opposition parties – are held electorally responsible for economic calamity, it's not a bad political strategy.
Then again, it's a hard accusation to prove: after all, one person's economic sabotage is another person's principled anti-government conservatism.
Beyond McConnell's words, though, there is circumstantial evidence to make the case. Republicans have opposed a lion's share of stimulus measures that once they supported, such as a payroll tax break, which they grudgingly embraced earlier this year. Even unemployment insurance, a relatively uncontroversial tool for helping those in an economic downturn, has been consistently held up by Republicans or used as a bargaining chip for more tax cuts. Ten years ago, prominent conservatives were loudly making the case for fiscal stimulus to get the economy going; today, they treat such ideas like they're the plague.
Traditionally, during economic recessions, Republicans have been supportive of loose monetary policy. Not this time. Rather, Republicans have upbraided Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve, for even considering policies that focus on growing the economy and creating jobs.
And then, there is the fact that since the original stimulus bill passed in February of 2009, Republicans have made practically no effort to draft comprehensive job creation legislation. Instead, they continue to pursue austerity policies, which reams of historical data suggest harms economic recovery and does little to create jobs. In fact, since taking control of the House of Representatives in 2011, Republicans have proposed hardly a single major jobs bill that didn't revolve, in some way, around their one-stop solution for all the nation's economic problems: more tax cuts.
Still, one can certainly argue – and Republicans do – that these steps are all reflective of conservative ideology. If you view government as a fundamentally bad actor, then stopping government expansion is, on some level, consistent.
So, let's put aside the conspiracy theories for a moment, and look more closely at how the country is faring under the GOP's economic leadership.
As Paul Krugman wrote earlier this week, in the New York Times, while a Democrat rests his head each night in the White House, the United States is currently operating with a Republican economy. After winning the House of Representatives in 2010, the GOP brokered a deal to keep the Bush tax cuts in place, which has reduced the tax burden as a percentage of GDP to its lowest point since Harry Truman sat in the White House. At the insistence of the White House, Congress also agreed to extend unemployment benefits and enact a payroll tax cut – measures that provided a small but important stimulus to the economy, but above all, maintained the key GOP position that taxes must never go up.
But as Congress giveth, Congress also taketh. The GOP's zealotry on tax cuts is only matched by its zealotry in pursuing austerity policies. In the spring of 2011, federal spending cuts forced by Republican legislators took much-needed money out of the economy: combined with the 2012 budget, it has largely counteracted the positive benefits provided by the 2009 stimulus.
Subsequently, the GOP's refusal to countenance legislation that would help states with their own fiscal crises (largely, the result of declining tax revenue) has led to massive public sector layoffs at the state and local level. In fact, since Obama took office, state and local governments have shed 611,000 jobs; and by some measures, if not for these jobs cuts the unemployment rate today would be closer to 7%, not its current 8.2%.
[Watch Matthews] confront former Bush official Tony Fratto, and call out big business for helping to sabotage the economy to benefit the GOP...