The Republicans' Fundamentalist Approach to Spending and Jobs

It's not about jobs or the deficit, it's about the brutal will of the free market.

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We all know the aphorism that “it’s the economy, stupid.” I don’t think anyone would argue with that notion--that the biggest thing driving voters (especially at a time like this) is the state of the economy. Unfortunately the economy varies in the eye of the beholder.

Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen noticed a great example of this dynamic at play watching CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday where House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan was a guest alongside Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the committee. Discussing the possibility of a government shutdown and whether the White House, the Democrat-controlled Senate, and the GOP-run House can come to an agreement on keeping the government open beyond March 4 (when the current allotment of funding runs out), the two men laid out starkly different sets or priorities. For Ryan the name of the game is spending cuts. Van Hollen conceded that spending cuts are generally necessary but pointed out that there’s a larger priority to be dealt with:

…the bipartisan commission on--on fiscal responsibility specifically warned against deep, immediate cuts in the year 2011, why, because, it would hurt a fragile economy and put people out of work. In fact, there are estimates that about eight hundred thousand Americans would lose their jobs if you do this in a reckless manner.

Ryan is focused on spending cuts while Van Hollen is looking at spending cuts in the larger context of unemployment and the economic recovery. This, as Benen points out, is a significant difference.

[ See editorial cartoons about the economy.]

It comes down to the fact that the GOP has been taken over by free market fundamentalists who see no role for the government in tending to the economy and the recovery other than getting out of the way--even it means that jobs are lost in the mean time.

This may sound like routine GOP dogma but this crew seems ready to take that view to its logical conclusions, regardless of real world consequences. So while many Republicans supported the bailout of the financial system when George W. Bush initiated it (because the collapse of the financial system and resulting depression would have been, you know, bad) most now see unwarranted government interference in the natural course of the free market. Ditto the auto bailouts. And so too the focus on cutting federal spending. The bailouts helped avoid devastating real world economic consequences, most notably sharply higher unemployment. And the spending cuts the GOP is contemplating would also result in net job losses, a fact that Speaker John Boehner acknowledged last week with his instantly immortal utterance, “so be it.”

[ See the 10 best cities to look for a job.]

When Boehner made that comment he was citing a bogus figure of 200,000 new federal jobs under Obama and saying that some portion of those jobs being destroyed was entirely acceptable. Van Hollen cites an 800,000 figure. Nobody seems to dispute that the spending cuts the GOP wants would destroy jobs.
But (despite GOP campaign rhetoric in the 2010 elections) their priority isn’t job creation as such; it’s cutting spending with the idea that job creation will at some point follow. That’s “cutting spending,” not “cutting the deficit.” Dick Cheney famously said that Ronald Reagan proved deficits don’t matter, and this is clearly a lesson the GOP has absorbed.

[ See editorial cartoons about spending and the budget.]

They may use cutting the deficit as a talking point, but their utter lack of seriousness regarding the deficit is demonstrated by their ongoing and unshakeable embrace of tax cuts--a policy that would add something on the order of $4 trillion to the deficit.