Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 24, 2009

WHAT IS CHUCK GRASSLEY TALKING ABOUT?.... While the political world has come to expect a certain amount of transparent, mind-numbing nonsense from House Republicans, it's worth remembering that Senate Republicans are often just as ridiculous.

Take Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), for example. A five-term senator from a blue-ish state, Grassley is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. He's also purportedly the leading Republican in the chamber working with the majority on health care reform.

And when it comes to the basics of the economic crisis, Grassley has now embraced neo-Hooverism with both arms.

The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee on Monday said an across-the-board freeze on federal spending is needed to reel in President Obama's massive budget plan, signaling a more active Republican stance in fighting the president's agenda.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, also said the president is pursuing a "socialist" form of government that will stifle the free market.

Mr. Grassley told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that a spending freeze is necessary to get the federal deficit under control and to show voters that the government is capable of living within its means in hard times.

"What you get when you have an across-the-board freeze is everybody is seen as contributing something," Grassley told the conservative paper, adding that a three-year freeze can have a "very dramatic" effect.

That's true, in a Great Depression kind of way.

If I thought Grassley was just spouting nonsense to make the base happy, I could laugh this off as mere partisan stupidity. But I get the sense the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee actually believes this. He seriously wants a spending freeze -- for three years -- in the midst of a deep and serious recession.

Even David Brooks recently said, "A lot of Republicans up in Capitol Hill right now are calling for a spending freeze in a middle of a recession/depression. That is insane." Responding to the last GOP officials to call for a spending freeze, Paul Krugman added, "I'm shocked by the total intellectual collapse of the Republican Party in the face of this economic crisis.... I'd really like to see some genuine bipartisanship in America. But that can't happen until we start having at least somewhat sane partisans."

And why is this such a spectacularly foolish idea? As Pat Garofalo recently explained: "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."

It all comes back to what I call the Republicans' "pre-recession mindset." In the midst of a crisis, too many GOP policymakers, including Grassley, have not yet realized that things have changed.

Grassley's bizarre beliefs reinforce a point from a couple of weeks ago: it's time to leave the minority party out of the policy discussion until they're ready to sit at the big kids' table. The party, at this point, just aren't trying anymore. They deserve a lot of things -- ridicule, scorn, derision -- but a place at the policy negotiating table isn't one of them.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Comments

at what point during the bush administration did grassley indicated the slightest willingness to do something about irresponsible fiscal policy?

during a period of growth, we should have been running a general fund surplus: grassley was part of the majority that voted for bush deficits as far as the eye could see.

it's not just that the gop is full of dumb people, which it certainly is: it's the transparent hypocrisy of their stupidity that is so aggravating.

equally aggravating is that grassley can be quoted with these immensely idiotic remarks without being questioned about why didn't he support budget responsibility when the iraq war (which he didn't even like) was being funded?

Posted by: howard on March 24, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

So Republicans and Democrats have reached a consensus that something ought to be done about federal spending. Now they just need to sort out a few little details: should be massively increased or decreased?

Actually, I'm wondering whether it might be possible to balance the budget even during the recession: The government spends a couple of trillion on stimulus, and at the same time increases taxes by a couple of trillion on the top 1%. Maybe that would work. That should satisfy the budget hawks, right?

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on March 24, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

I saw him on Morning Blow this morning. He actually had the audacity to say that it is time for the President to start instilling some confidence rather than being such a nattering nabob.

Never mind the fact that the 'confidence' Mr. ASSley speaks of is being eroded by an all out media blitz funded by the right and implemented by the right's propoganda wing the MSM to instill as much doubt and apprehension as possible about the Obama stimulus and budget, in hopes that enough legislators will balk (due to erosion of public support), and the stimulus/budget will be watered down and ineffective.

Then the republicans can play the blame game.

These people sicken me. They are playing politics with the future of not only peoples' lives, but our country.

God I wish the democrats from FDR's time were still around. They'd put these piss ant republicans in their place. Someone needs to do this, and badly, real badly.

Posted by: citizen_pain on March 24, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

In a recent conversation with someone who has worked closely with Grassley on the Hill and is from the other side of the isle (Repub), apparently the good Senator is not very bright. As it was framed to me, he is just plain dumb as a tree. I find that hard to believe given that I think it takes something to get elected to the Senate, but it makes me wonder when he goes off like this. He really doesn't seem to have a clue. It is also frightening given his position in the Senate. Worse, yet, given the questions, I don't think he is the only clueless one asking questions. Geithner and Bernanke seemed pained at times at the ignorance.

Posted by: Scott F. on March 24, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

And what do the members of Evan Bayh's We're-Too-Cowardly-To-Admit-We're-Wingnut-Freakazoids "Working Group" think about this?

Ten bucks to Steve's favorite charity says the DINOs solemnly announce their support for Grassley's "moderate" "bipartisan" spending freeze in three, two ....

Posted by: Yellow Dog on March 24, 2009 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

The telos of a politician is to win elections. The telos of a ranking minority member is to win elections for his party.

The microeconomics of the kitchen table reduces to bumper stickers in a way that macro doesn't, and being reducible, wins elections.

From a purely psephological perspective, Margaret Thatcher was right -- there's no such thing as 'society', there are only individuals and families.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on March 24, 2009 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, also said the president is pursuing a "socialist" form of government that will stifle the free market."

Anytime a Republican starts talking about 'socialism', it indicates that they have either drunk the Koolaid to the dregs, or else that they have absolutely no intellectual or political integrity in the face of the rabid Republican base.

And, frankly, it doesn't really matter which one. The White House and the Democratic majorities should, I agree, simply stop talking to anyone who rolls out the 'socialist' canard. No need to do anything punitive, but simply stop talking to them, stop inviting them to White House events and public presentations, stop pretending that they are in any conceivable sense of the word engaged in 'bi-partisan debate.'

They are numbskulls or hacks, and cannot ever be relied upon for anything. Grassley's an egregious example, who tries to pretend he's one of the 'reasonable' Republicans (if not reasonable enough to actually support rational policy). He's not, and this rhetoric demonstrates it conclusively.

Posted by: PQuincy on March 24, 2009 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

When this fuckwit says "across the board", can he be specific? For example, it better include freezes on military spending. If it doesn't a kick right in the nads with a steel-toed boot is in order.

Posted by: Breezeblock on March 24, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Hoover was from Iowa too.

Posted by: LogopolisMike on March 24, 2009 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

One of the bedrock beliefs of Republican authoritarianism is that if they can create conditions where workers are made to work hard enough, and poor people are made poor enough, they will be grateful for what they have and learn to be obedient.

Posted by: thebewilderness on March 24, 2009 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not get carried away with the Iowa-bashing. Aside from Grassley(who is dumb as a box of rocks) and Steve King(who is one of the most repugnant people in public office and dumb as a box of rocks), we Iowans are good people.

Posted by: GiggsisGod on March 24, 2009 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see why this is so controversial. It says right in the Constitution that we cannot spend money on improving our own country.

That's why I think the entire United States should secede from the union simultaneously. Then, the United States government will surely invade and start to make some infrastructure improvements.

I mean, sure you'll have to deal with the occasional rancid meat, electrocuting shower or outright murder of innocents when dealing with the contractors, but in the end after a trillion dollars or so has been spent, I think things will start to look up.

Posted by: doubtful on March 24, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

This is not a serious attempt to engage the Obama Administration or the congressional leadership. It is more evidence that the GOP has decided to double down on a strategy of polarization. In other words, more of the same failed Bush/Cheney/Rove/Limbaugh politics that have produced such outstanding results recently (if you're a Dem). They are flailing around; enjoy the spectacle while it lasts.

Posted by: danimal on March 24, 2009 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Doubtful - LOL. Thanks.

Posted by: Scott F. on March 24, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK
One of the bedrock beliefs of Republican authoritarianism is that if they can create conditions where workers are made to work hard enough, and poor people are made poor enough, they will be grateful for what they have and learn to be obedient.

John Holbo in 2003 on Donner-Party Republicans:

The thing that makes capitalism good, apparently, is not that it generates wealth more efficiently than other known economic engines. No, the thing that makes capitalism good is that, by forcing people to live precarious lives, it causes them to live in fear of losing everything and therefore to adopt – as fearful people will – a cowed and subservient posture: in a word, they behave ‘conservatively’. Of course, crouching to protect themselves and their loved ones from the eternal lash of risk precisely won’t preserve these workers from risk. But the point isn’t to induce a society-wide conformist crouch by way of making the workers safe and happy. The point is to induce a society-wide conformist crouch. Period. A solid foundation is hereby laid for a desirable social order.
(emphasis mine) Posted by: Davis X. Machina on March 24, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

There's a surprise. Expect the two Iowa Republican congressmen, Latham and King, to go along with this too. Both have taken credit for Iowa projects in the Omnibus Appropriations bill that they voted against, King once, Latham a grand total of eight times. Faced with loud and widespread derision within his district, Latham finally explained that though he supported all those projects, the overall bill was just too awful to vote for. Having flunked the part of second grade ethics that says you don't take credit for something you haven't done, he's likely to join big brothers Chuck and Steve as Iowa's budget watchdogs in the evil big city.

Scott F. at 2:15 is right, none of these guys are smart enough not to piss into the wind, but they keep getting reelected with this sorry crud. Too bad for the rest of us, but entertaining for the country. Unless they prevail.

Posted by: ericfree on March 24, 2009 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

let me say only one small defense of Grassley: he is modestly consistent (relative to most Repub office holders). he has been a defecit hawk for a while, including on several issues during Bush's terms. he has railed in a populist way against $700 hammers at Dept of Defense, and against rich televangelists having a tax exemption.

defense done.

the real issue here is, as has been mentioned, Grassley has these populist instincts untempered by significant intellect. that, and i swear he's gone senile in the last year. he used to be dull (both boring and unintellectual) but harmless, and occasionally useful on things like SCHIP.

in the past year he has suddenly become a zealous partisan hack. not sure quite what is up with that, but as an Iowan let me just say it is annoying as hell.

Posted by: zeitgeist on March 24, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't even call it a "pre-recession mindset," because before this recession they were all in favor of busting the budget.

Posted by: Russ on March 24, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "It all comes back to what I call the Republicans' 'pre-recession mindset'."

The Republican "mindset" is that the rich don't have enough money, the poor have too much, and the basic purpose of government is to enrich and empower the rich and powerful at the expense of, and to the detriment of, everyone else.

Before the recession, after the recession -- what does that matter? The imperative is always to use the power of government for corrupt purposes of private financial gain for the ultra-rich corporate financiers of the Republican Party.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 24, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

From my POV, Grassley is a wind-bag populist who rivals only Sens. Dodd and Schumer for his aggressive assertion of anti-business nonsense.

Posted by: DBL on March 24, 2009 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

in the past year he has suddenly become a zealous partisan hack. not sure quite what is up with that, but as an Iowan let me just say it is annoying as hell.

I assumed he's getting a primary threat from the far right next year. Does Iowa have open primaries?

Posted by: shortstop on March 24, 2009 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Worse, yet, given the questions, I don't think he is the only clueless one asking questions. Geithner and Bernanke seemed pained at times at the ignorance. - Scott F

Could you be referring to Michelle Bachman, by any chance? Like when she accused the Fed of spending 10 trillion dollars to bail out the banks and AIG, or when she asked Geithner why AIG wasn't put into receivership? Or when she asserted that "both Russia, China and Kazackastan (seriously)" called for a global currency.

Posted by: Danp on March 24, 2009 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

no, shortstop, Iowa doesn't have open primaries, and there has been no particular buzz about a challenge to Grassley from the right (his stockpiled cash makes that quixotic at best).

neurological farm chemical toxicity from longterm exposure may be a possibility.

Posted by: zeitgeist on March 24, 2009 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

"From my POV, Grassley is a wind-bag populist who rivals only Sens. Dodd and Schumer for his aggressive assertion of anti-business nonsense"

Huh? Dodd and Schumer- "anti-business?" Snark???

Posted by: Piper on March 24, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Grassley isn't being stupid, nor is he insane. He and the rest of the republicans are making a political calculation. If they get their spending freeze, the economy will crash and burn in an epic way. Then they will shift the blame to Obama and crush the Dems in the next election cycle.

This isn't stupidity. It isn't insanity. It's sabotage.

Grassley's actions make perfect sense when you realize that the Republican party's entire reason for existence is to win elections. They never take a position, right or wrong, based on whether they think it will help the country, only on whether they think it will help them raise funds or win a poll.

Posted by: Remus Shepherd on March 24, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, what is implied to go along with the spending freeze is that "we can't raise taxes during a recession". Especially on the wealthy that the rethugs and their Bayh lead 'moderate dumbocraps' represent.

The corporately owned rethugs and the corporately owned dumbocraps will assure that the monied interests that they represent will not suffer. And they could give a f*ck about the rest of us!

Dis-electing Grassley? Unless there is a highly financed and focused effort to oust a multiterm senator (ie Daschle), multiterm senators virtually never get dis-elected.

Posted by: AngryOldVet on March 24, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

I don't seem to remember anything about the republicans trying to block the 59 million or so in bonus money that was paid out in December 08 to AIG. Does anyone else?

Posted by: JS on March 24, 2009 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

THREE years, Chuck?

Because you couldn't keep a straight face if you suggested FOUR?

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on March 24, 2009 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

I would also add that one reason why the government needs to start spending money is to address the growing imbalance in the economy. Too much money is fleeing into the safety net of government bonds. If that money just sits there doing nothing it would create serious problems even if we weren't in a recession.

Posted by: Guscat on March 24, 2009 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

They'll never be ready to sit with the big kids at the table.

Has it ever been more singularly clear that Conservatives do not know what they're talking and never have?

They just like to hear themselves talk loud and important.

Posted by: alan on March 24, 2009 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

@ howard: it's not just that the gop is full of dumb people, which it certainly is: it's the transparent hypocrisy of their stupidity that is so aggravating.

It's worse than that. One of the reason for the massive deficit numbers is that Obama's administration dropped several accounting methods used by Bush to disguise the size of the deficit.

Needless to say, the so-called "liberal media" fails to mention the fact when reporting on the deficit numbers.

Feh.


Posted by: Gregory on March 24, 2009 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

How stupid these people are. No understanding of economic principles what so ever.

BASIC ECONOMICS FOR IDIOTS:

Dave's 10 brothers who all work a small cigar maker decide they needed to save money because they had been spending too much on beer. So they all decide to quit smoking cigars to cut down on spending. They also encouraged all their friends to quit smoking those cigars so they would have more money for beer. They all bought their cigars from the cigar maker they worked for.
Because of the drop in business the cigar maker had to fire them all. Now they had no money for beer or cigars and also no money to spend at the cafe where Dave's wife worked and to which they gave huge tips. Soon Dave's wife was let go too as the cafe lost so much business. Dave was angry so he got elected Senator and demanded that the state quit spending money on projects that might get his brothers back to work so they could again buy beer and support the local cafe. After a few years of desolation the voters finally decided Dave was an idiot who never learned anything about economics and finally told Dave they would give him all the cigars and beer he wanted if he would just STFU and go away.

Dave accepted their offer, divorced his wife, and moved in with Ex-Senator McCaskill at a home for the aging which was quickly running out of funds which she made sure were better spent on defense and beer insurance programs rather than letting the old and disabled take it away from the taxpayer as if they were entitled to care even after years of paying taxes themselves. Now Dave is really screwed...poor Dave.

Posted by: bjobotts on March 24, 2009 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Obama needs to keep doing with the Republicans what he is doing with the other Ayatollahs, the ones in Iran: extending the hand of cooperation, but acting unilaterally if it is not reciprocated. This is elementary game theory. If necessary, let the Republican senators block the programs we need, rather than compromise them away; that will put them on public record more emphatically than all their blowhard, unpatriotic statements.

Posted by: keith on March 24, 2009 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

A "pre-recession mindset" describes Sen. Grassley's thinking exactly. It also applies to dolts such as Bayh and his "moderates".
Sure, unemployment is up, discretionary spending (and undoubtedly non-discretionary spending, too) is down, housing forelosures are up; but everyone Sen. Grassley knows is doing alright. And everyone THEY know are also doing ok. The fact that his salary, and the rest of Congress' salaries, are paid by the government doesn't matter. The lobbyists he knows aren't losing their jobs. Nor are the CEO types who move in his social circle. So if "everyone" the Senator knows is doing alright, there is no need for massive amounts of stimulus spending.
No, we don't have massive lines of unemployed waiting to apply for the few positions that are available. Yet. No, we don't have soup kitchens opening up every day in major cities. Yet. Nor do we have hundred/thousands of people living in whatever available shelter they can scrape together. Yet. And we certainly don't have half the population undernourished/malnourished or just this side of starvation. Yet.
However, it took those conditions, the fear of armed uprisings, revolution AND the complete collapse of the US financial sector in 1933 before the Republicans of that period faced the facts and either tried to help solve the problems or got out of the way. My only fear is that the present Republican Party seems determined to learn those lessons all over again.
Even if it means a "Great Recession".

Posted by: Doug on March 24, 2009 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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