Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 28, 2009

HOW WE GOT IN THIS MESS IN THE FIRST PLACE.... Josh Marshall is listening to congressional Republicans give speeches this afternoon on the House floor, explaining their opposition to an economic stimulus package in the midst of a deep recession. He seems rather pained.

It may not be advisable for anyone to actually listen to the arguments House Republicans are actually making on the House floor. We're just listening again to Rep. [Jeff] Flake (R) who appears to have himself outdone himself in militant statements of economic nonsense. Earlier today we heard Flake claiming that tax cuts have no stimulus effect if they go to low-income earners who pay payroll taxes and not income taxes.

Now he's explaining how capital spending on AMTRAK is also not stimulus because AMTRAK doesn't run a profit. Again, total non-sequitur. I think rail is something we should be spending a lot more on. But you can certainly disagree with that on policy terms. But you can't claim that that capital spending on rail stock and rail upgrades doesn't provide jobs. Of course it provides jobs. And whether Amtrak is profitable or not is completely beside the point.

Where did they get this guy?

I can appreciate Josh's frustration. Listening to House Republicans talk about the economy is not only tedious, it's a striking reminder that these guys don't know what they're talking about.

I mean that, literally. They're clueless. There are coherent arguments against the stimulus plan, even from a conservative perspective, but actual GOP policy makers apparently aren't familiar with them. Their arguments about the CBO are wrong. Their arguments about tax credits are wrong. Their arguments about aid to states are wrong. Their arguments about the stimulative benefits of tax cuts are wrong. Their arguments about corporate tax rates are wrong. Their arguments about housing are wrong. Even their arguments about allocation are wrong.*

There's probably some entertainment value in considering the "stupid vs. dishonest" dynamic -- maybe Republicans know their arguments are wrong, and are repeating them anyway -- but the end result is always the same. It's hard to get through a single speech without searching frantically for the Maalox.

It reached the point today that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), a member of the leadership, said Democrats are acting like ... wait for it ... former Republican president Herbert Hoover. I suppose, by Ensign's formulation, that makes Mitch McConnell FDR?

And perhaps the single most frustrating part of listening to the Republicans' nonsense is the painful realization that it's their misguided worldview that got us into this mess in the first place. It's the same misguided worldview that opposed a stimulus last fall, which would have made this bigger stimulus less necessary now.

Congressional Republicans, in other words, still believe they have credibility on matters of the economy, and they demand that everyone respect their authority. It's quite odd.

* edited slightly for clarity

Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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Comments

It is akin to deprogramming cult members. They still think the Leader is true and wise, and that their intentions are the correct ones and they just don't understand that they are the minority party.

Watching the GOP since the election and it's clear that they are not handling their loss very well.

Posted by: Across on January 28, 2009 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Faith based economics.

Posted by: J Frank Parnell on January 28, 2009 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

And yet, news organizations still seem to think that there is some value in asking these people for their opinions.

They created the problem. They have no idea - literally, no idea - how to solve the problem.

Yet, they are consulted as experts and given carte blanche to hurl bricks at President Obama and the Democrats.

And don't get me started on the Democrats. Why on earth they feel the need to placate the Republicans by adding tax cuts and removing stimulus items from the bill is beyond comprehension.

It's time for Democrats to act like they know they won a mandate in November. Ignore the Republicans. Fix the economy. The politics will take care of itself.

Posted by: UncommonSense on January 28, 2009 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody like Bill Maher should take on these people and expose them for the con-artists they are and have been. Other than that, everytime one of them makes a statement, someone with credibility and knowledge should counter it. Too much of their trash talk economics is getting on the air, including NPR, as a legitmate counterweight to Democratic policies. So WAKE UP! this battle is not over just because Obama won...

Posted by: Kurt on January 28, 2009 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Deep recession.

Shallow depression.

Which is it?

We can't blather our way out of this mess.

I think DC should declare a moratorium on nonsense.

It's as if Washington is gripped by mind-numbing fear.

It's time for folks to speak only if they can contribute in a reasonable way to the debate, anything less is a waste of tax dollars.

To the Demoncrats.... politely encourage your minority colleagues to find a hard object and do a Dick Cheney on themselves (GFY)

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 28, 2009 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

Your average Republican congressman is a former real estate developer with a online degree from a Christian correspondence college who managed to demagogue sufficiently against Teh Gay and the baby killers at his county GOP caucus to get the local fundie preacher and a couple of other rich buddies to support him for a seat. They are really a bunch of mouth breathers who couldn't explain an economic position if their lives depended on it.


Posted by: jonas on January 28, 2009 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Now he's explaining how capital spending on AMTRAK is also not stimulus because AMTRAK doesn't run a profit. Again, total non-sequitur.

It is stimulus. It is also stupid. Good money after bad. Hey, why not reopen the Edsel factory? Start printing out copies of Windows v3.1?

I love passenger trains, but they don't make money, period.

As long as we're stepping up to the bottomless barrel of pork that is the stimulus, I'd like to see a few billion thrown into an infrastructure and policies such that Identity Theft becomes a fond memory. The idea that someone can steal my identity just by getting my SSN is ludicrous.

Posted by: red state mike on January 28, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

"... wait for it ..."

do you have a machine that randomly injects this line into sentences? You may think it makes you look hip, but it just makes you look lame.

Posted by: christine on January 28, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

I can name that tune in three words...

listening to congressional Republicans give speeches this afternoon on the House floor...

1)Defunct
2)And
3)Dissipated

Posted by: koreyel on January 28, 2009 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Exactly.

I'm not sure what is supposed to be frustrating about knowing that stupid policies have bad results. What I find frustrating is that it is just not done to mention or even know that some policies are stupid and some are not. No news organization will ever, ever say, for example, that a Republican speech based on a non-existent CBO report is flawed in any way. At the most, they will report that Democrats *claim* that the speech is flawed. Even though this is not a matter of opinion, even though there is a very simple question of fact that can be answered. One just doesn't do such things.

Lies about trivia, on the other hand, will be pounded into oblivion. Because we are allowed to understand trivia.

Posted by: tatere on January 28, 2009 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Democracy would be a lot easier if Democrats didn't have to stop to explain shit to Republicans every time they didn't understand something.

Posted by: Karinthy on January 28, 2009 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

The Rethugs have believed their own press releases for the past eight years. They bragged about creating their own reality, and the media was right onboard. Of course it never did have anything to do with reality, since as Steve has so often said, "Reality has a liberal bias."

Are things going to change? Only if the Obama White House oils up its own PR machine, and scares the ever cowering media into paying attention. It's not pretty, but someone's got to do it, mores the pity.

Posted by: rich on January 28, 2009 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

"wait for it" is never lame. it is the ultimate in internet cool. (I will now make sure to insert it at least 5 times a post. Nobody else will get the joke, but I'll be laughing.)

Posted by: Personal Failure on January 28, 2009 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

"and they demand that everyone respect their authority"

They really are the Cartmans of the world, aren't they?

Posted by: fostert on January 28, 2009 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

I love passenger trains, but they don't make money, period.

Neither does that part of I-95 that isn't tolled.

Shut it down.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 28, 2009 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm thinking that this is all part of Obama's call for a conversation. If everyone gets to speak, that means the Republicans.

When they speak, everyone remembers why they voted for democrats. More stunning is that every Republican says exactly the same thing.

And it basically boils down to: government can't help, just give everyone tax cuts.

It is pretty amazing how you can construct an argument where government purchases don't help the economy, but identical purchases by the private sector will help.

Posted by: tomj on January 28, 2009 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK
I love passenger trains, but they don't make money, period.

The purpose of private industry is to make money for those running the industry.

The purpose of government action is to provide benefit to the public at large.

It is often a valid criticism, by those to whom the decision-maker is responsible, of an act or proposed action by a decision-maker in private industry that the act does not make money. That is not, however, generally a valid criticism of a government action, since the purpose of government action is not, in general, to make money.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 28, 2009 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Potential Quote of the Day: Darryl Issa: "Some of the money won't even be spend until Obama's second term."

Posted by: tomj on January 28, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Flake is basically a professional politician. He has no background in business or economics. But he acts as if he knows what he's talking about.

Posted by: LB on January 28, 2009 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Neither does that part of I-95 that isn't tolled.

Shut it down.
Posted by: Davis X. Machina

Wrong analogy. No one is advocating tearing up the tracks, since they carry revenue generating cargo.

So why are you excited about subsidizing a money losing business anyway? Seems like doing away with AMTRAK and saving the billion or so a year of taxpayer's money that it loses would make good sense. Better to reinvest it into something that doesn't have an unbroken 40 year track record of losing money. Build some nuke power plants.

Posted by: red state mike on January 28, 2009 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I think Jon Stewart nailed it when he said "you don't trust the guy who just drove you in a ditch to get you out".

Posted by: kswan on January 28, 2009 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

Build some nuke power plants. -red state mike

Negative.

The last thing we need to do is create more nuclear material, and just how can we argue that countries like Iran shouldn't have nuclear power while we're expanding ours?

Look elsewhere for a solution.

Posted by: doubtful on January 28, 2009 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Obstructionists. Marginalized republican congressmen seeking tv facetime. Note relentless and inappropriate smiling by Eric Cantor as John Boenher, the rotissary-baked Ken Doll, grabs up some tv time. Any psychologist worth his or her salt can see these republican suits have needs
(similar to a need for Viagra or Cialis) that are not in the public's interest, especially after losing their prior congressional dominance(i.e. -- erection) that before 2006 seemed to be potentially a permanent fact of life.

Posted by: consider wisely always on January 28, 2009 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

There's probably some entertainment value in considering the "stupid vs. dishonest" dynamic [...] -- Steve Benen

If there ever was, the joke has gone stale some time ago. In '02, my husband was protesting "but... you can't mean that every Republican is either a moron or a villain; it's not possible". By '04, he saw the truth of it himself. The honest and/or smart Republicans are long gone. Or, perhaps, they never existed at all, and are just the stuff of myths, like unicorns.

Posted by: exlibra on January 28, 2009 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

This post describes exactly how I feel about the Republicans' "alternate better stimulus proposals". Seriously, any interview of the Reps should start with the question "If you guys have such great ideas about how to make jobs, why'd you wait until now to propose it?" What have they been doing before now?

Posted by: Lisa on January 28, 2009 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

This is exactly what I've been talking about for months. Why listen to the people who put us in this situation.

Posted by: Gandalf on January 28, 2009 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

So why are you excited about subsidizing a money losing business anyway?

because government is not a business. your argument would technically apply to literally everything government does - none of it makes money (except the IRS, I suppose, but I doubt you are a big fan of that one).

but for passenger rail in particular, the real question is does it make money after economic externalities are properly accounted for? Obviously that is a nearly impossible question to answer in an exact way, but if one believes there is a positive societal benefit to promoting and having available passenger rail, then that benefit has a value that must be considered. If passenger rail would take "x" autos off the road, and thus save "y" barrels of oil and reduce "z" tons of pollutants, that also has a value that has to be assigned a monetary value. It may well be that once you factor in positive externalities, AMTRAK does indeed "make money" as a matter of economic theory.

Economic cost/benefit analysis will always be inaccurate if it looks solely at dollar bills changing hands. opportunity costs, secondary and tertiary impacts, and positive and negative externalities all matter very much -- especially for government action where profit/loss statements have no meaning, negative cash flow is exceedingly unlikely to result in insolvency, and the mission statement is to promote the general welfare, not just to maximize shareholder values.

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 28, 2009 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Better to reinvest it into something that doesn't have an unbroken 40 year track record of losing money.

That something wouldn't be George W. Bush, then.

Posted by: Stefan on January 28, 2009 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK
So why are you excited about subsidizing a money losing business anyway?

The only reason for a government to subsidize a business is that doing so produces public benefits (that is, benefits accruing to people other than either the business and its owners or the people purchasing service from it). If getting better rail lines and more people to use rail, say, reduced pollution and its effects, it would have public benefits; a public subsidy can (approximately) internalize this externality, so that the benefit that is produced is not lost simply because it doesn't accrue to the decision-making parties in the passenger rail transport purchase decision.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 28, 2009 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

So why are you excited about subsidizing a money losing business anyway?

Because the problem with that "money losing business" is not that passenger train travel is dead. People travel by train every day all over the world. The problem is that our passenger rail system sucks, by design.

One example: for years, they've been talking about building a rail line that will take passengers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. That, my friend, is guaran-effing-teed money just waiting to be scooped up by the bushelful, especially if you put a club car in there. People wait in traffic for hours to get from LA to Las Vegas, so clearly there's a pent-up demand for it.

But can we get the money to build this guaranteed money-maker? Nope. Gotta stick with the crappy lines you already have and prove you can make money taking people to places they're not interested in going before you can build rail lines to places that people want to go.

Also, you probably shouldn't tell any East Coasters you know that you want to shut down the Acela Express. They won't react well.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 28, 2009 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

It doesn't matter that their arguments are wrong.

What matters is that the handful of giant corporations that own and control the so-called "mainstream" mass media in the USA, who support Republican policies that enrich and empower the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else, and therefore want to undermine public support for and confidence in the Obama administration and the Democratic Congressional majority, will tell the American people that their arguments are legitimate.

This morning NPR -- bastion of the "liberal" media -- featured a steady stream of Republicans attacking the stimulus proposal and the Democrats' lack of "bipartisanship" with exactly the sort of BS your article focuses on, and featured not one single Democrat supporting it.

The American people are going to be hammered relentlessly by the corporate media with Republican propaganda.

Count on it.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 28, 2009 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

And the world views of wall street cheer leaders and deregulaters like democrat Chuck Schumer had nothing to do with this financial crisis? Come on. The democrats are equally culpable in leading us into this crisis. The basic financial world views between the parties were not that much different.

Posted by: lou on January 28, 2009 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

What do Republicans stand for if not for the economic recovery legislation proposed at this time? What have they and their policies done for America lately? How have their priorities worked for all Americans? Why do they put on display an utter ignorance of macroeconomics? And what are we to do with the obstructionists who are sabotaging relief efforts because they can't move past their partisan filters?

Well, the viable answer to the above question is to actively work for the obsolesence of the Republican party. Their relentless efforts to stack the deck with politicizing the DoJ, torture policies, and defiance of the rule of law for the past 8 years has bought them no credibility in my mind to even begin speaking on economic stimulus policies.

Quite frankly, some of the rhetoric used on the floor of the House today is harmful and insulting to our collective memories and wisdom. No doubt these Republicans have more in store for us, and I hope we can collectively slap down their cockemamie ideas when such items come to our attention. -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 28, 2009 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

It's like watching a boxing match between a fighter with "phantom limb syndrome", and a nother fighter with "phantom limbless syndrome"

The Black Knight is supposed to be comically ridiculous.

Not an effective opponent

Pisses me off....

Posted by: DonkeyKong on January 28, 2009 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

red state mike wrote: "Better to reinvest it into something that doesn't have an unbroken 40 year track record of losing money. Build some nuke power plants."

Nuclear power plants have an unbroken 50 year track record of losing money.

The nuclear power industry would not even exist without billions and billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies. The "free market" -- meaning private capital -- won't touch nuclear power unless the taxpayers absorb all the costs, up front, and underwrite all the risks, including the risks of financial loss if the power plants turn out to be unprofitable.

Michael J. Wallace, the co-chief executive of UniStar Nuclear, told the New York Times in 2007 that "without loan guarantees we will not build nuclear power plants."

The Congressional Research Service says such guarantees threaten to leave taxpayers with "potentially large losses."

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the risk of default on a nuclear loan guarantee is "very high -- well above 50 percent."

Of course it is no surprise that you don't know what you are talking about -- but since you are a "conservative" and being "conservative" means mindless adherence to all "conservative" articles of faith, like support for nuclear power, you don't need to know what you are talking about. Just regurgitate the talking points and be happy.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 28, 2009 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Why do they put on display an utter ignorance of macroeconomics?

They are making a calculated bet that one of two things are true: (a) the MSM filter will make them look less ignorant and/or (b) the general public wont know any better - that the general public is equally ignorant about economics.

If either of those are true, then sounding sincere, sounding indignant, and wrapping their erroneous or meaningless words in the proper political phrases suffices to help, rather than hurt, their cause.

Call me pessimistic, but my experience with MSM and the general public suggests the R's bet is not exactly a longshot.

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 28, 2009 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

no, the single most frustrating part of this is that the media swallows this pablum whole because they don't have to chew it to digest it.

Posted by: bruce on January 28, 2009 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

The Idiocrats will wallow in their dystopia.

Posted by: John Henry on January 28, 2009 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Common sense may be breaking out in the Democrats. Back to the drawing board for Nancy.

Posted by: Mike K on January 28, 2009 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

Common sense may be breaking out in the Democrats. Back to the drawing board for Nancy. -- Mike K, @18:46

Would be nice. If they shifted all of the money from the d....d tax cuts into -- broadly understood -- infrastructure (public transportation, repairing bridges, green-retrofitting of buildings and enlarging the wireless network), we might be getting something solid out if it.

But I don't have much hope; Obama wouldn't have picked Sommers, if he didn't intend to listen to his advice. And Sommers is all for weak tea stimulus.

Posted by: exlibra on January 28, 2009 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

Their arguments don't have to make sense. They are misdirection, nothing more.

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on January 28, 2009 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

To some degree, I am concerned tax cuts to lower classes DON'T stimulate the economy.

They just go to Wal-Mart and buy cheap imported crapola.

Since we can't buy American products, I suppose we need to buy infrastructure. Hopefully with non-imported steel concrete and heavy machinery.

We've seen what rich people do with tax cuts.
Bank it. Acquire smaller competitors. Eliminate jobs with the battle cry "synergy" and "efficiency of scale!"

On NPR, I hear the wealthy are looking for investments because they don't trust the market.
My advice. Bankroll your neighbor who needs to start a business because there are no businesses hiring. You'll help the country, your neighborhood, and possibly win big.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on January 28, 2009 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't Flake just the guy who votes against everything? I seem to remember him being the sole (or close to sole) NO vote on a whole host of non-controversial economic/trade issues. From what I remember he makes Ron Paul seem like an accomodating, internationalist, spendthrift.

Posted by: Beauregard on January 28, 2009 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Last fall, I got an invitation to spend a day with our local State Assemblyman on the State Assembly floor.

I was NOT PREPARED for the total, "Dunce Cap" ignorance I listened to all day from GOP members. I mean, this wouldn't fly in fifth grade, and here they were carrying forth about the budget. I was expecting some... rigor. Some research. Some classic debate.

I know I was naive, but it was so depressing. Shouldnt' there be an "eject" button when you make a total ass of yourself?

Posted by: Susie Bright on January 28, 2009 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

And perhaps the single most frustrating part of listening to the Republicans' nonsense is the painful realization that it's their misguided worldview that got us into this mess in the first place.

it could be argued that they departed from their "misguided" worldview when they voted for the spending increases and tax cuts that created (or exacerbated) the Bush deficits in the early 2000s.

Either way, the Republicans are being inconsistent: they only oppose Democratic deficits.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 28, 2009 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, they're wrong, wrong, wrong about everything. They haven't been right about anything since Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex.

Posted by: carolanne on January 28, 2009 at 9:24 PM | PERMALINK

The emperor's clothes. If you call waste, profligacy, and debt "stimulus and investment," nobody will notice we're bankrupt and need massive spending cuts and fiscal responsibility.

Posted by: Luther on January 28, 2009 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

"I love passenger trains, but they don't make money, period."

Neither does air travel, once you add in the necessary infrastructure, infrastructure paid for by the government. Neither do roads.

The unfair thing about Amtrak is that the comparisons are always apples to oranges instead of apples to apples. Investing in rail, whether it's used by freight or passenger, always pays dividends in the long term.

Posted by: PaulB on January 28, 2009 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

"it could be argued that they departed from their 'misguided' worldview when they voted for the spending increases and tax cuts that created (or exacerbated) the Bush deficits in the early 2000s."

Not really. The Republican Party hasn't been the party of fiscal responsibility for at least the past three decades. It's been nothing but "tax cuts, tax cuts, and more tax cuts" for thirty years now, regardless of whether those tax cuts made any economic sense.

As for the spending, when you consider a lot of that is for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and everything that goes with them, that, too, is Republican at heart.

So, sorry, Matthew, but they don't get a pass.

Posted by: PaulB on January 28, 2009 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Common sense may be breaking out in the Democrats. Back to the drawing board for Nancy."

Dear heart, none of the issues mentioned in that article are being raised by the Republican Congresscritters who voted unanimously against the package. And if those concerns were dealt with by Nancy, you would *still* not have a single Republican vote for it.

Sorry, but you've attached yourself to a party of morons.

Posted by: PaulB on January 28, 2009 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

Talk about contradictions in Repug arguments, I saw Issa on Shuster's show (or Hardball, don't remember which now) and he said that the stimulus wasn't enough (after all the crying on C-Span about how much debt we are putting on our children and grandchildren)and that the billions for infrastructure wouldn't even cover the projects that the Army Corps of Engineers have lined out, like the levies in N.O. I almost fell off my chair. When did they start giving a care about N.O.? Do they really think people don't listen to what they say? It makes my head hurt.

Posted by: Always Hopeful on January 28, 2009 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

The last time the Republican Party was not the agency of the forces of darkness in this country was 1865. Today, they're run by their enemy from back then.

And, as my great-grand-uncle told me long ago, "the only 'Good Republicans' are pushing up daisies." Reading Steve's post here, I rest my case as to the truth of that statement.

Posted by: TCinLA on January 29, 2009 at 2:49 AM | PERMALINK

"I love passenger trains, but they don't make money, period." Isn't that FUNNY? They make money in CANADA! What are they doing wrong here, other than the obvious, where they starve them for infrastructure funding? Moron. Passenger rail makes money everywhere it's been adequately maintained and promoted.

Posted by: brantl on January 29, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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