Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 25, 2009

SPENDING FREEZE.... On Monday, RNC Chairman Michael Steele appeared on Fox News, calling for a "spending freeze." It was relatively easy to dismiss, since Steele has no formal policy role, and is easily confused over policy details.

But actual Republican policymakers are apparently serious about pursuing such a freeze. David Weigel reports:

House Republicans have responded with a change of subject: they have proposed a "spending freeze," a controversial idea among economists during an economic downturn. [...]

"We're advocating that Congress freeze all federal spending immediately," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the chairman of the House Republican Conference, during a Tuesday luncheon at the conservative Heritage Foundation. [...]

Pence's argument for a spending freeze is widely accepted within the Republican conference. On Monday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) asked Democrats to "abandon their plans" to push through an omnibus bill "and instead pass a clean bill that freezes spending at current levels."

It's hard to overstate how incredibly foolish this is. It's a Neo-Hooverism approach in its most obvious form. Weigel noted that Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist who wrote a book critical of George W. Bush's spending, "could not name many peers who believe that smaller deficits and less spending are the way to combat economic downturns."

For Republican officials -- who spent freely, cut taxes, and produced massive debt during Bush's presidency -- the way to respond to an economic crisis is to spend less money. It's what "people out there" do, so it's what the federal government should do. (It's as if they've never even heard about the differences between micro- and macro-economics.)

The sensible debate right now is whether the feds should spend, spend more, or spend a lot more. GOP lawmakers have given up on credibility and seriousness, and are moving in the opposite direction, calling for a freeze that would only exacerbate the crisis. Indeed, demonstrating a painful incoherence, Republicans are, simultaneously, calling for a spending freeze, deficit reduction, and more tax cuts.

When John McCain inexplicably called for a spending freeze six months ago, it was a spectacularly bad idea. Pat Garofalo explains it's slightly worse now: "The economic stimulus package's main purpose is to close the GDP gap and jumpstart the economy by spurring spending by households, government and the private sector. A spending freeze would act as an 'anti-stimulus,' cutting spending precisely when it's too low and the economy is moving too slowly."

I received a very sincere note the other day from a long-time reader who thinks I've been too "shrill" lately in describing Republican policy ideas. That may or may not be true -- it's certainly not conscious on my part -- but if I seem more frustrated, it's because in the midst of a very serious crisis, the best the minority party's leaders can come up with is truly nonsensical ideas like these. With so much on the line, it's a little hard to take.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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Comments

Shrill-on, brother! It's tough to maintain an even keel when knee-deep in the lunacy.

Posted by: rusrus on February 25, 2009 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Seems lojikal if you're Repub.

When at war (one large scale occupation and one counter insurgency) and you need the revenue, enact the biggest tax cuts in history.

So...

When the economy is in the tank, no one else has any money and you need to pump as much money into the economy to get it going, a spending freeze.

Great thinking, Repubs.

Posted by: Former Dan on February 25, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Freeze Congressional pay and reimnbursement for expenses for the duration of the recession. That will stimulate Congress to pay attention to the true facts.Congress needs to be in the same boat as their constituents

Posted by: mlJohnston on February 25, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

it's not just scary, it's mind-boggling! How can you be this ignorant of history, economics, ethics and political science and be in a position to determine the future of the "greatest democracy on earth"-oh wait! they were elected by ignorant voters in low tax, low service states with crummy schools, corporate newspapersw and tv and rampant bigotry...

Posted by: sue on February 25, 2009 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

It's really hard to figure -- Are these guys out to wreck any chance of recovery, so they can place blame in 2010 and 2012 for their own political gain? Or are they just as stupid as they seem to be? (After watching Republicans back to Eisenhower, I'm inclined to the "stupid" hypothesis.)

Posted by: Lew on February 25, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

sue said: -oh wait! they were elected by ignorant voters in low tax, low service states with crummy schools, corporate newspapersw and tv and rampant bigotry...

You forgot "States that receive more in Federal Funds than they pay out in Federal Taxes."

Posted by: martin on February 25, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I gotta figure there are a lot of people out there who operate or work for businesses for whom the federal government is a big client, and no doubt many of these people vote R. So please, go ahead, push this insane idea.

Posted by: Jean Arf on February 25, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

What does freeze spending mean? Does it mean that there will be no spending on anything? No salaries for employees of the govt., including the military? No payments to contractors? Shut down the VA hospitals? Cut off all police and fire protection services?

I want to see the list of those to be cut off, specifically, with the names of those being cut off. The criticism of Obama's plans are that they are not detailed enough. In an hour, it is pretty difficult to detail all the plans. So, R's, show me the details of your plan.

I am committed to Oneness through Justice and Transformation
peace,
st john

Posted by: st john on February 25, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmm. I think they need to add a provision that all congresscritters are required to take a basic economics 101 test- and if they fail they need to take a damn class.

Embrace education, gop. Knowledge will not rot your brain. Facts are not a disease either, despite what you may have been told.

Posted by: zoe kentucky on February 25, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps Republicans realized they were soundly defeated because of terrible policy decisions and are trying to goad Democrats into making a similar mistake?

Posted by: jeri on February 25, 2009 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

A bit-o-analogy, methinks?

Let's put this in the perspective of a family, instead of Steele's "big bad government."

Now, let's suppose that there's an economic crisis in the household, and our "family" needs to spend a bit less. What options are on the table, if we assume Steele's "madness" as the only reasonable option for our family?

Our family might decide to pay $15 less every month on their mortgage, and give the electric company $10 less than the amount due each month' they could pay two-thirds of their grocery bill when they get up to the cashier, unilaterally decide to pay only a portion of their children's doctor's and dentist's bills---and, of course, they could always forget about paying for the occasional tank of gasoline.

Now, where would this put our imaginary family? The mortgage stunt would eventually leave them homeless; the non-payment for electric leaves them cold and dark; non-payment for groceries means that the groceries don't accompany you out the door; theft of gasoline gets you a trip to jail, and neglecting the medical needs of your children costs you your children.

In the end, we find ourselves saddled with one very dysfunctional family---thanks to the awe-inspiring, superior intellect of Mr. Steele.

Is it any wonder that the GOP is on a fast-track to political extinction?

Posted by: Steve W. on February 25, 2009 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't that John McCain's entire economic platform?

I wonder how that campaign turned out.

Posted by: Ohioan on February 25, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Mike Pence repeated this last night, he was interviewed on C-Span after the speech. He suggested a spending freeze on all non-entitlement domestic spending.

Basically: science, education, regulation, environment, infrastructure.

Republicans have made a career by going after particular programs, separating the program from government as a whole. Once separated it can be easily destroyed. Imagine complaining about $10 Bln for high-speed trains! The amount we spend in Iraq each month.

Posted by: tomj on February 25, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

"For Republican officials -- who spent freely, cut taxes, and produced massive debt during Bush's presidency..."

Why is this so hard for everyone to say?

Posted by: Obama -- Not as Tough as the Steelers on February 25, 2009 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Finally someone with some common sense left. It boggles the mind that Democrats want to keep spending when the deficit is out of control and we don't know where the economy is going.

If my wife managed the family finances like Democrats do I'd be on divorce number three. This isn't rocket science, kids.

Posted by: Myke K on February 25, 2009 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

It's Bizzaro Universe stuff, where the laws of arithmetic are different, or, at least subject to differences of opinion. If you don't understand something, one should at least have the sense to tread cautiously. As Auden once wrote "Minus times minus together make plus, The reasons for which we will not discuss".

Posted by: MattF on February 25, 2009 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Another analogy:

Imagine seeing a man bleeding from an abdominal wound wheeled into the emergency room. The nurse checks his vital signs and says that his blood pressure is 80 over 40 (normal is around 120 over 80) and dropping. The doctor orders two liters of blood be pumped into the patient.

A Republican steps up and grabs the doctor's arm, saying "You can't give the patient any blood until you fix his wounds and stop his bleeding. Otherwise, the will just flow out and be wasted!"

The doctor, against his better judgement, does what the Republican says and for the next 90 minutes carefully sews up the patient. He is so busy, he doesn't notice that the beep-beep on the heart monitor had turned into a steady drone 20 minutes earlier.

The Republican says, "Hey, at least you didn't waste the blood and now it will be here when it's needed."


Posted by: SteveT on February 25, 2009 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps Republicans realized they were soundly defeated because of terrible policy decisions and are trying to goad Democrats into making a similar mistake?

No one -- and I mean NO ONE, from the Bluest Dog to the liberalest lefty will go for a "spending freeze" it's transparently insane. They just voted on a "compromise" bill that came out to nearly $800 billion based on a multi-tiered understanding of targeted spending and the necessary infusion of cash into the market. Some of the more conservative Democrats wanted it to be lower, but they weren't opposed to the idea out of increasing government spending.

Jesus, Steve, one has to be shrill when faced with this kind of jabbering lunacy. The GOP is a failed party like Afghanistan is a failed state.

Posted by: Jay B. on February 25, 2009 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

I think even those on the furthest fringes of Wingnuttia know these are stupid ideas. The point is to position themselves in diametric opposition to Democrats. Conservatives know the odds are that the economy will get worse before it gets better, so they're betting the farm that it will be at its worst when the 2010 elections occur. In their delusional little brains, that alone will catapult every voter in the country into the waiting arms of Republicans, who will claim they were right all along, win enormous majorities in Congress, impeach Obama and declare a theocracy.

Simple ideas for simple minds. And it's a lot easier to construct a delusion than policy.

Posted by: dalloway on February 25, 2009 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Is the GOP in competent hands?

Certainly, they're all incompetent. Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk (thanks to Curly Howard)

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on February 25, 2009 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

It's what "people out there" do, so it's what the federal government should do.

It's time to stop letting them repeat this bit of folk wisdom as if it is true. It isn't true.

Most people, when they lose their jobs, don't go on a spending freeze. Instead, they start borrowing money. They borrow money because they know they will get a job soon, and they will pay back the loans at that time.

When I was in college, I took out student loans and ran a deficit. Then, when good times came and I had a job, I repaid that deficit. And then I started saving in case I had another downturn, so I won't have to stop spending if I lose my job.

Posted by: DR on February 25, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Who cares about infrastructure when you never take public transit? Or education, when you send your own children to private schools? Or the economy, when you've got a steady gig that pays very well, with lavish health care and retirement thrown in?

The Republican Party has doubled down on catastrophe, and since they're protected from its effects they can consign everybody else to pain and oblivion. It's morally reprehensible, hypocritical, and criminally negligent, but it's the only way that living Republicans have ever operated.

Government hasn't failed us - only Republican government has failed us.

Posted by: brooklyn on February 25, 2009 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

A) However sincere, to call Steve "shrill" is absurd: my only frustration, very rarely, is that he is so reasonable when dealing with or writing about total idiots who are betraying their country for personal political advantage and (I suspect in many cases) deep, deep racism that simply cannot get its anxious, small brain around the fact that a black person runs the country.
B) How do the reasonable reason with those who cannot: that is the question.
C) How do we rewire the so-called msm to think instead of react and recite neo-con talking points, like Pavlovian dogs?

Posted by: SF on February 25, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

People are surprised by this? It's been the strategy all along. Bleed the beast, then drown it in the bathtub.

Posted by: grinning cat on February 25, 2009 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans keep getting stranger and stranger, it's inexplicable. I think every single one of them has been taken over by 19th century ghosts of robber barons long past. There is no other logical explaination.

Posted by: Kurt on February 25, 2009 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

If my wife managed the family finances like Democrats do I'd be on divorce number three. This isn't rocket science, kids.

Posted by: Myke K

Typical Republican. You seem to have forgotten that it was the Republicans led by George W. Bush that got our finances into this mess.

When are you going to divorce the Republican Party Mike? Or is the sex too good?

Posted by: DR on February 25, 2009 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

It's completely logical to me. Republicans want every inch of everything to be privatized and would like nothing more than the United States made into a banana republic where the people hate the government and the government can pillage without impunity. This was part of the plan all along. Look for it only to get crazier and crazier from here on out. That is the "logical" outcome if history is any guide.

Posted by: grinning cat on February 25, 2009 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

All of this nonsense from the Repubs seems to be related to fear. Deep complete terror. On both personal and party fronts it is a party that has become a complete failure. Out of ideas after a failed presidency and completely confused about how they got there and how to get out. And now they are trying to fight a man who seems to have the qualities of great presidents of the past and the fight is over. I�ve been reading about the Confederacy during the time when most knew the Civil War was lost and the level of fear and confusion because the cause was lost reminds me of the Repub party now. The Reagan revolution is on life support with a DNR tag. There will be last gasps and desperate efforts but ultimately the depraved cause of these conservatives will be in the garbage heap of history like their enemy the communists. Thank FSM.

Posted by: cjfromwi on February 25, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

It's as if the GOP's goal is to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard. (Bonedigger, bonedigger.)

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on February 25, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

I believe this is the low point for Republicans in their long history. The panic is evident. Their behavior is based on trying to please their "keepers", the large corporations and the remaining lunatic "base" that placed George W. in office for 8 years. The party of hate and intolerance, tax cuts for the rich and corporate greed is imploding.

Posted by: tiredofgreed on February 25, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Is this one of MIchael Steele's "off-the-hook" ideas? Something that's "beyond cutting edge"?

I swear, this guy is the gift that keeps on giving.

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on February 25, 2009 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Smaller government and tax cuts seem to be the G.O.P's equivalent of ghost dancing. They have utterly abandoned any attempt at analysis or critical reasoning.

Posted by: demisod on February 25, 2009 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

I was struck by Jindal's snark about Volcano Monitoring. I am looking at Mt St Helens right now, so maybe volcano monitoring is near and dear to me, but if Jindal wants to save some money, maybe he should ask NOAA to stop monitoring hurricanes. Dumba$$.

Posted by: Tiparillo on February 25, 2009 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

"Finally someone with some common sense left. It boggles the mind that Democrats want to keep spending when the deficit is out of control and we don't know where the economy is going.

If my wife managed the family finances like Democrats do I'd be on divorce number three. This isn't rocket science, kids." Myke K

Apparently, to some, it might as well be rocket science. Myke, may I direct you to study the difference between Micro and Macro economics? But then again, I suspect you'd rather go with your gut feeling, rather than what our best economists are saying, and what history proves to us to be true.

Posted by: JWK on February 25, 2009 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

If my wife managed the family finances like Democrats do I'd be on divorce number three.

This is the most disingenous argument that the GOP and supporters have. If your wife managed your family finances like the GOP you would be bankrupt.

The GOP trots out sops like this to folks that like simple answers to complex problems. The fact is that the GOP has run the federal budget the economy into the ground. The Democrats are the only party offering solutions that have a chance of turning things around in the short term.

Posted by: AK Liberal on February 25, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

I think Myke K just revealed why he is so dense about economics -- his wife does that job for him.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on February 25, 2009 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

"It's hard to overstate how incredibly foolish this is. "

Look at who their target audience is. Foolish ideas for foolish people.

Posted by: James G on February 25, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

How about a freeze on perks for congresspersons. No more free medical no more free mail no more car allowance no more office staff (answer your own phones and mail dickwad)Then we can have a freeze on military spending forcing all those soldiers to come back from world hotspots. The most priveliged upperclass is going to tell the unwashed masses to tighten their belts?

Posted by: John R on February 25, 2009 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

As DR says above, when people don't have enough money, they don't go on spending freezes, they borrow money. They spend more with credit cards, loans, refinance their houses, and borrow money from friends and relatives. And that's not to mention that people routinely buy houses and cars on credit. And businesses do the same damn thing. Every business is started by borrowing money from the owner and there's an entire market devoted to the buying and selling of business bonds.

Everyone knows this and it's a big part of the current crisis we're in. And the fact that Republicans CONTINUE to suggest that only the government borrows money to increase spending just shows how completely unconnected they are to reality. There is no basis to their inanity. It's all just bullshit pulled from their butts that is only bought by the idiots who also refuse to acknowledge reality. But all one needs to do is look at the growing stack of bills on their desk to realize how wrong Republicans are. Or a mere contemplation of the financial crisis will work too.

At this point, there is literally no basis in reality to any Republican talking point. While they once pimped anti-intellectual "common sense" rhetoric to the masses, even their best arguments are counter-intuitive these days. Everyone from the wonkiest expert to the least educated layman realizes that the government needs to step in and fix this. Only the rightwing ostriches suggest otherwise, which can only be advocated through willful ignorance. Even the craziest wingnut knows they're wrong, if only they were willing to admit it.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on February 25, 2009 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP knows that, realistically, spending will not be frozen -- which means they can keep giving "goodies" to their constituents while pretending to be "virtuous."

They are simply trying to repair the "whorish" reputations they gained under the GW Bush "free-for-all" when war costs were hidden and deficits didn't matter because it was a "time of war!"

As usual, Republicans want it "both ways." As usual Republicans are hypocrites.

But let's hope that, just like in the last two election cycles, the American public will see through their lies and hypocrisy and continue to vote against the GOP. Maybe that will force Republicans to come up with real, honest plans for the future if they want to stay a viable opposition party.

Posted by: Louise on February 25, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

"(It's as if they've never even heard about the differences between micro- and macro-economics.)"

They don't know the difference.

THESE PEOPLE ARE FREAKING IDIOTS!!

Hopefully, more and more people are waking up to that fact.

Posted by: bdop4 on February 25, 2009 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

I received a very sincere note the other day from a long-time reader who thinks I've been too "shrill" lately in describing Republican policy ideas.

tbrosz, is that you?

Seriously, cry me a fucking river. If your Republican readers are uncomfortable at your exposure of the ridiculousness of the Republican platform, I submit that the trouble is the ridiculousness of the Republican platform, not your exposure of it.

That, and they should stay the hell away from John cole's blog.

What a bunch of whiny losers, these Republicans.

Posted by: Gregory on February 25, 2009 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "I received a very sincere note the other day from a long-time reader who thinks I've been too 'shrill' lately in describing Republican policy ideas."

My only complaint about your discussion of Republican "policy ideas" is your consistent characterization of them as "crazy" or "confused". That lets the Republicans off the hook.

The Republicans are neither crazy nor confused.

They are proposing policies that have a track record of proven success at enriching and empowering the Republican Party's ultra-rich financial backers. Nothing "crazy" about that: the Republicans know what policies work -- that is, what policies work to the benefit America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. at the expense of everyone else -- so those are the policies they are pushing, whether they are in power or not.

And the Republicans know full well that these policies will do nothing to address the "economic crisis" facing ordinary Americans -- including, of course, the Republican base electorate, the people who actually vote for Republican candidates. The Republicans know, in fact, that their proposals will be detrimental to rank-and-file Republican voters as they will be detrimental to all ordinary working Americans. So, they deliberately lie about their proposals by presenting them as a solution to the "crisis".

The Republicans are not "crazy" -- they are greedy.

The Republicans are not "confused" -- they are lying.

You are not being "shrill" when you say that Republicans are "crazy" and "confused" instead of calling them what they are: greedy liars. On the contrary, you are being naive.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 25, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

It is logical, if you think that America needs to go through what Russia went through in the 90's, which is the conclusion more and more conservatives are reaching if the right-wing blogs are any sort of reliable guide.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on February 25, 2009 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

"We're advocating that Congress freeze all federal spending immediately," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.),

Is this Mike "After THe Towers Fell" Pence?
(After his giving Former Pres. Bush a new name)

Posted by: Marceaumarceau on February 25, 2009 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with SecularAnimist. It's a deliberate strategy. It's called Disaster Capitalism. Obama said in his speech that crises provide opportunities. The Republicans see this as an opportunity to get rid of the New Deal and usher in their dream world and they will drag out every argument they can use to sway any one they can convince. They have learned that when they are not in power they can bring down any policy or law they don't like by chipping away at it daily. If it doesn't work today, it will work tomorrow.

Posted by: Always Hopeful on February 25, 2009 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

I'm thirding SA above. If anything, Mr. Benen, you've given modern conservatism way too much latitude in your analyses. One mustn't be "shrill," I agree to that. But how has that term itself been twisted out of all proportion, until it's one of many stand-ins for "how dare you substantively criticize me/my ideas/my behavior/my ideology/my heroes?" Mr. Benen, fuck them. They have NO real ethics, they have NO real morals, they have NO sense of civic or personal responsibility; as you're pointing out more and more often, THEY GOT NOTHIN.' And that goes for more than just their ideas and policies. They are psychic cripples, emotional retards, and very, very dangerous because of this. Modern conservatism is a disease, not a viable political positioning, a cancer that has singlehandedly nearly killed this country. This scourge has NO RIGHT, NO CLAIM to ANY KIND of accommodation whatsoever. Bunch of piss-ant, screeching little weasels, dickless wonders who still can't believe they've been torn from the teat.

Or, in their own words, they just aren't serious enough to be taken...seriously. Who wants Bozo calling the shots? I don't.

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on February 25, 2009 at 11:35 PM | PERMALINK

"...Too shrill"??? Too shrill??? It's mostly just that those listening to republicans don't want to believe it. They just can't believe that these idiots are going so far off the deep end that they refuse to accept what they are saying and doing.

It's certainly not too shrill to point how the obvious facts no matter how much one "wishes" it weren't true.

Posted by: bjobotts on February 26, 2009 at 12:18 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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