Political Animal


July 08, 2011 10:05 AM It’s not too late to change priorities

By Steve Benen

In a statement this morning, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus blamed rising unemployment on “out-of-control spending.”

Perhaps now would be a good time for reasonable political observers to call this what it is: dangerously stupid.

The latest jobs report is truly awful, and comes just a month after a May jobs report that was nearly as bad. Overall, it’s the worst back-to-back trend in nine months, and in the private sector, the worst two-month stretch since May/June of last year.

The question is what policymakers are prepared to do about it.

When the jobs reports were looking quite good in the early spring, Republican leaders were eager to take credit for the positive numbers they had nothing to do with. Needless to say, GOP officials are no longer claiming responsibility, and are in fact now eager to point fingers everywhere else. It’s a nice little scam Republicans have put together: when more jobs are being created, it’s proof they’re right; when fewer jobs are being created, it’s proof Obama’s wrong. Heads they win; tails Dems lose.

To put it mildly, GOP whining is misguided — whether they want to admit it or not, the economy is advancing exactly as they want it to. The private sector is being left to its own devices; the public sector is shedding jobs quickly; and the only permitted topic of conversation is about debt-reduction.

This is the script the GOP wrote. When it’s followed to the letter, Republican complaints are absurd.

Indeed, the great irony of the 2010 midterms is that voters were angry and frustrated by the weak economy, so they elected a lot of Republicans who are almost desperate to make matters worse.

At this point, the GOP agenda breaks down into two broad categories:

* Ignore the problem: Republicans have invested considerable time and energy into measures related to abortion, health care, NPR, and calling the loyalty of Muslim Americans into question. To date, Republicans have held exactly zero votes on bills related to job creation.

* Make the problem worse: When they’re not fighting a culture war, Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to take money out of the economy, against tax cuts they used to support, and against public investments proven to create jobs, all while threatening to send the economy into a tailspin through voluntarily default. By some measures, the GOP may even be trying to sabotage the economy as part of an election strategy.

We know austerity doesn’t make things better, in large part because it’s not supposed to. That’s the point on austerity — to impose pain and sacrifice, not to grow and flourish. We can already see the results at the state and local level, where officials are forced to cut spending and laying off thousands of public-sector workers. These were preventable job losses, but the congressional GOP refuses to consider state and local aid. Worse, they intend to duplicate the results at the federal level.

It’s not too late. We can boost public investments. The Federal Reserve can stop worrying about inflation that doesn’t exist. We can stop pretending spending cuts can create jobs.

If the politics won’t allow for measures to make things better — if, in other words, Republicans refuse to consider steps to create jobs — then it’s probably time for the public to change the politics.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • T2 on July 08, 2011 10:12 AM:

    the latest job figures prove the GOP is being successful in doing what they want, make Obama a one term president.

  • Dredd on July 08, 2011 10:14 AM:

    When we are spending more on air conditioning for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than we are on the entire NASA budget, there needs to be a new definition of "insane" IMO.

  • SteveT on July 08, 2011 10:15 AM:

    If the politics won't allow for measures to make things better . . . then it's probably time for the public to change the politics.

    Umm . . . how exactly do we, the public, do that?

    I would happily support a write-in campaign for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primaries. I will be sending money to progressive candidates in congressional primaries.

    But how do liberals get past the corporate-controlled media's blackout when even "moderate" Democrats rarely get face time?

    What will catch Obama's attention and get him to step away from the agenda of his fellow Republicans?

  • Texas Aggie on July 08, 2011 10:16 AM:

    "out of control spending"

    Considering that when the jobs were being created, there was a lot more spending (Stimulus) than there is now, it strikes me as marked stupidity that anyone would even say this because they open themselves up to ridicule.

  • Mr. Serf Man on July 08, 2011 10:21 AM:

    We are fucked . Plain and simple.
    No one is on our side
    The Oligarchs have won.
    You keep thinking it can't get worse , but it does because the people with all the money are rooting for failure.
    All for ideology .
    And because, they have the wealth to weather the crash.
    This country has lost it's collective mind.

  • walt on July 08, 2011 10:22 AM:

    �Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can�t afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.�

    Did Reince Priebus say this? No, President Obama did. But we'll wax apoplectic about Republicans sabotaging the economy when Obama himself is lending moral support to their nihilism.

    Really, what does it take to wake up you Obots?

  • MBunge on July 08, 2011 10:22 AM:

    Where are the jobs supposed to come from? Technological changes and policy choices have crippled the agricultural and manufacturing sectors as job-creators. We're not even close to getting over the housing boom/bust, so construction is not going to lead the way. While we certainly should be increasing public employment, that's clearly not the long-term solution. Administration jobs are ultimately dependent on people actually doing things that need to be administrated.

    That leaves us with the service sector, but not just any service sector. It's one that's built and operates to emphasize efficiency and productivity over all else. I'm sure that any business owner will tell you that increasing your workforce is a terribly inefficient process and that squeezing more productivity out of existing workers is often easier than hiring new people.

    This is the first major economic downturn America has experienced since the early 80s, or more than a quarter century. The recessions in between where both shallow and very brief by historical standards. In that roughly 25 years, the U.S. economy was reorganized along certain principles that helped transform us to a service-economy and maybe this is how a service-economy responds to severe recessions.

    If that's true, it's not just Obama and the rest of the Beltway who deserve to be blasted. It's also those public intellectuals who promoted and cheered on the economic transformation of the country to fit their ideologies. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Paul Krugman.


  • c u n d gulag on July 08, 2011 10:24 AM:

    What Reince Priebus said is a talking point that he's trying to make a meme.
    Can you blame him?

    Where are the Democrats to counter this BS?
    To talk about spending being good?
    That a new stimulus is what's needed?
    To point out who spent more in 8 years than every other President in history combined?

    Ok, Krugman, Baker, and a few other liberal economists and bloggers.

    But where are the Democrats? Where's the President? If they don't counter the Republican BS, why expect a MSM who's been marinated in their talking points to come up with anything different? *

    *Cue Alli to yell at me again! :-)

  • Josef K on July 08, 2011 10:28 AM:

    Actually, I believe it was too late to change priorities as far back as 2008 when Obama was elected. Its was clear he wasn't a barn-stormer or major reformer; he's more of an institutionalist who's willing to play at the margins.

    In short, not the sort who'll challenge consensus (no matter how misguided) or who'll hold firm in the face of hostilities.

    At least that's my read of him.

  • kevo on July 08, 2011 10:30 AM:

    "Out of control spending" - a hackneyed phrased to be sure, but one that betrays its utterer as disingenuous!

    Reince Priebus' parents didn't seem to raise their boy very well, as his utterance could have very easily come from a horse's ass than one calling himself Republican.

    But I digress!

    Voters of America, the Republican brand is playing you as fools. Theirs is not the intention to expand democratic principles, promote a healthy economy for all our citizens, or even pretend to represent anyone other than rich, wealth-growing constituents who contribute to Republican political survival by donating their "free speech" to an already well-oiled political machine.

    Hey Roberts Court - like the way Stephen Colbert is shredding your cockamamie Citizens United decision? Seems recent renderings have come from a majority made up of twits and privilege!

    Alas, our nation is suffering from too many twits with too much money on their hands, and too many twittish allies in key political positions! With so much "free speech" flowing between them, the rest of us have been locked out, but I don't mind as being a twit beholden to soulless pecuniary overlords is not how I wish to spend my temporary stay here on planet earth!

    I'd rather take a page from Einstein than Inhofe, Gandhi than McConnell, Eisenhower than Boehner, or even Reagan than Hatch! But then again, priorities do come in many different shapes and sizes! -Kevo

  • Davis X. Machina on July 08, 2011 10:31 AM:

    If making things worse had a political downside, the Tories, albeit in coalition, wouldn't be ruling in the UK today. Despite running on a “We can make things much worse. We will make things worse. And you know that we can, because you lived through Thatcher” platform, they came within a Nick-Clegg's-ego length of the finish line.

  • Jamie on July 08, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Unfortunately, I think Steve is being unduly optimistic. This isn't getting better anytime soon.

  • biggerbox on July 08, 2011 10:32 AM:

    Republicans, especially the Chairman of the RNC, are impervious to ridicule. His job is to mouth GOP dogma at all times, after all.

    What annoys me more is the stupid things that Democrats in the White House will say about what is, after all, the logical consequence of decisions they made six months ago.
    This is what happens when you stop fighting for economic stimulus and jobs, and start negotiating with crazy people as if the deficit was the most important thing right now.

  • Jamie on July 08, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Well you would develop a tough outer shell if your parents named you Rheince Preibus.

  • SteveT on July 08, 2011 10:43 AM:

    MBunge asks:
    Where are the jobs supposed to come from?

    We have an estimated $2 trillion in crumbling infrastructure that needs to be repaired or replaced. We can fix it now or fix it after it falls down.

    We still have a society dependent of fossil fuels. Follow Germany's lead and declare the the United States will use 100 percent renewable fuels by 2050. Toward that end, provide loans, grants and tax subsidies to place solar panels on every house and building where there is enough sun to make it worthwhile. Add grants to train out-of-work construction workers to install the solar panels.

    Increase the number of government employees who keep our children alive by monitoring food safety and the environment.

    Once we have a growing middle class again, those workers will have a little money left over at the end of the month to spend at businesses like mine. When the demand for goods and services go up, businesses like mine will hire more workers -- and the economy becomes self-sustaining until the Republicans and their Wall Street johns f*ck it up again.

  • Kane on July 08, 2011 10:45 AM:

    The problem is not that the Republican philosophy isn't working the way it's supposed to work, the problem is that it is working the way it's supposed to work.

    They don't believe that government has a role in
    solving national problems because they believe that
    government is the problem. They think we're better
    off if we just dismantle government.

  • Jamie on July 08, 2011 10:49 AM:

    It's more a system of organized looting than a fiscal program. But that's been true for years.

  • Tom Allen on July 08, 2011 10:50 AM:

    "...whether they want to admit it or not, the economy is advancing exactly as they want it to. The private sector is being left to its own devices; the public sector is shedding jobs quickly; and the only permitted topic of conversation is about debt-reduction."

    Yes. the Democrats' economic plans aren't working, and it's time for a change. Oh, wait, you were talking about the Republicans' plans, which are exactly the same, only more so. I'd say it was time for a third party, except I'm not even convinced that there's even a second party any more.

  • bob h on July 08, 2011 11:00 AM:

    "Indeed, the great irony of the 2010 midterms is that voters were angry and frustrated by the weak economy, so they elected a lot of Republicans who are almost desperate to make matters worse."

    In 2008 a lot of young people and minorities jumped on the Obama bandwagon, but had jumped off by 2010 and didn't show up to support him. They didn't understand that he needed sustained support. So, I put a lot of blame on my fellow nominal Democrats, largely numbers of whom are complacent fools.

  • steve duncan on July 08, 2011 11:03 AM:

    "Its not too late. We can boost public investments."
    Actually it is too late. So many people have lost so much already. Broken marriages. Repossessed homes and cars. Shuttered businesses both big and small. People that put off, dropped out or just plain decided against a higher education because of the cost versus their ability to pay or find education assistance. People out of the job market for sometimes years, losing skills and value to future employers. Concerted, intelligent, progressive economic policies enacted today, this very minute, won't do much to help reclaim the permanently damaged lives out there. Millions of dreams and aspirations have been trashed. Even an optimist would have to concede good times may be back in something approximating the near term, but those good times won't bring back the life a good many citizens have lost. Do you think a new round of stimulus and a sensible budget agreement will cause a few hundred thousand broken marriages to be reconciled? Or will it cause a few million families out of their homes to return to a position they'll soon buy another and recommence their previous domesticity? Rebuild we must but to rebut your contention, yes, in a cruel way, it is too late.

  • Joe Friday on July 08, 2011 11:04 AM:

    It's not too late. We can boost public investments. The Federal Reserve can stop worrying about inflation that doesn't exist. We can stop pretending spending cuts can create jobs. If the politics won't allow for measures to make things better - if, in other words, Republicans refuse to consider steps to create jobs - then it's probably time for the public to change the politics.

    This should be aimed at the White House, not the Republicans. The Republicans are economically hopeless, but the White House has adopted their argument that we need massive spending cuts.

  • DAY on July 08, 2011 11:05 AM:

    it appears that Hoover will be a one term president.

    Will someone please notify FDR that it is his Time?

    If not, then World War Three will solve ALL of our problems!

  • jcricket on July 08, 2011 11:07 AM:

    Breaking News: congress plays with fire, then tells Obama his house is burning.

    All morning long the news has clips of Boehner askinng where the jobs are. What a loser! His R team has orchestrated a complete avoidance of any legislation that would help create jobs.

    Boehner knows full well where the jobs are. Behind the door that he and the R's in Congress keep locked.

  • SecularAnimist on July 08, 2011 11:11 AM:

    The Republicans don't care about jobs. They care about corporate profits. Which are skyrocketing -- in part because corporations are eliminating jobs.

  • bigtuna on July 08, 2011 11:14 AM:

    MBunge has a point. I have used ARRA funds to educate students; they all have gone on to get good jobs, etc., and I agree that our infrastructure is horrible. ARRA funding did help $2T is probably un underestimate, and we have plenty of jobs waiting to be had, with the right priorities, in construction, energy, etc.

    But. I have not done a thorough analysis, yet, but our economy, imho, is burdened by the internationalization, militarization, and financialization nature of the system that doesn't do a hell of a lot to create American jobs. I think something like 50% of the S&P 500 profits now come from overseas. Despite the wholesale mismanagment and criminal activity of the banking, mortage, wall street sectors, we have a growing profit center in the [again, imho] artifical and economically dubious "business" of sloshing money around, "creating" wealth from financial "instruments", etc. So we can create some "service" sector jobs for the people who create these so called wealth creation devices, but how is that sustainable economic growth?

  • sparky on July 08, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Look at this nation's history. This is not the first severe economic downturn and it won't be the last. Going all the way back to the early 1800s the response has always been the same. The monied interests use a stagnant economy as an excuse to crush the working class and further enhance their stranglehold on the economy by cutting wages and increasing hours to maintain/increase their obscene profit margins. During the latter half of the 19th century hundreds of unions representing millions of workers sprang up to challenge the corporate masters. Strikes on their part were crushed, first the local police, then the state militia, and, if necessary, federal troops. The federal courts were filled with corporate judges who always ruled against the people. We're simply seeing the past repeat itself--our oligarchs are strangling the economy and have no intention of helping improve things until they get an even biggerr slice of the pie. Today, they own the media, the supreme court, both political parties, and have a cadre of ill informed idiots know as the tea party to be their cannon fodder. The future for those of us who realize that this is just another ploy to exploit American workers is grim: We do not have a party to passionately represent us as both our major parties are pawns of the oligarchs and their lobbyists. We need something akin to the Haymarket riot to demonstrate to what lengths our corporate masters are willing to go to keep the unwashed masses in line. Into the streets with pitchforks and torches! That's not likely to happen as we (myself included) are content to air our bitches on line and hope someone is listening. No one is listening--we're preaching to a choir that has forgotten the old time songs that got people of their feet and into the street. If things don't change, at some point angry people are going to get into the streets and it's going to be a bloody mess when they do.

  • mr. irony on July 08, 2011 11:48 AM:

    out of control spending..

    you mean like this?

    RNC remains $19 million in debt - Yahoo News 5/19/11

    don't worry...

    the gop raised THEIR debt ceiling..

  • Jim on July 08, 2011 11:53 AM:

    The reality is that there is a very simple way to grow the economy. The 1st is to pass into law a 10 yr $300 billion fund for transportation infrastructure thus creating 1 million jobs for every billion spent. To make this work provide incentives to complete projects on budget and on time. Increase the gas tax to pay for this investment this way everyone paysfor the investment. 2nd raise the maximin limit on SS taxes to 1 million thus millionaires will contribute to the success of this nation. And lastly it is time for this country to start teaching trades again as opposed to pretending that every child should get a college degree that they can't use.

    The biggest annoyance to me in this country is that we as a nation provide foriegn students the opportunity to attend medical school at tax payer expense and make our own citizens take out loans. To lower health care costs in this nation all that needs to be done is to set up a program such as the way the military academies work. You get an education and you work and equal amount of time in the private sector in rural communitesand for a reasonable salary. It is not rocket science.

  • steve duncan on July 08, 2011 12:10 PM:

    "The biggest annoyance to me in this country is that we as a nation provide foriegn students the opportunity to attend medical school...."
    Really? Of all the injustices, misguided prorities, all the squandering of wealth by politicians and the finance industry, all the pain and misery; sitting atop the grand list of problems is the subsidized medical training of immigrants? You're putting us on, right?

  • MBunge on July 08, 2011 12:23 PM:

    To everyone who say we need more government spending though infrasctructure improvements or whatever, you may be right but you're forgetting something.

    "The era of big government is over."

    So, when you're somewhat deservedly ripping Obama and the Dems in Congress, try and remember that basically everything you're pissed off about flows directly out of the Presidency of Bill Clinton.


  • ReggieMay on July 08, 2011 1:35 PM:

    So with the Senate and Presidency firmly controlled by Democrats, joblessness is the fault of the Republicans. Uh huh.

  • steve duncan on July 08, 2011 2:01 PM:

    "So with the Senate and Presidency firmly controlled by Democrats........
    Reggie skipped government class the day "filibuster" and "entrenchment" were covered.

  • CDW on July 08, 2011 2:09 PM:

    Steve Benen - surely you understand by now that the austerity schtick is not just a republican obsession. Obama's behind it all the way and has been since early on in his term.

  • Joe Friday on July 08, 2011 4:35 PM:


    To everyone who say we need more government spending though infrasctructure improvements or whatever, you may be right but you're forgetting something. "The era of big government is over." So, when you're somewhat deservedly ripping Obama and the Dems in Congress, try and remember that basically everything you're pissed off about flows directly out of the Presidency of Bill Clinton.

    Ah, NO.

    We gained about 23 million NET new jobs during Clinton's two terms, the largest gain during any presidential term in modern history, with the majority paying a wage higher than the average wage in the national economy.

    There was no need then for government to step in and pick up the slack from a plummeting private-sector. It was more important to raise the Federal Minimum Wage and expand the EITC to put more money in the hands of Middle-class and Working Poor Americans, which resulted in the largest lifting of Americans out of Poverty and into the Middle-class in more than four decades.

  • Doug on July 08, 2011 9:46 PM:

    MBunge, there's "big government" and then there's "big government"; the two are NOT the same.
    One "big government" goes on the offensive trying to eradicate poverty, social inequality and pollution by DIRECT Federal intervention via Federal laws, Federal regulations, and, especially, Federal programs. All managed and staffed by Federal employees and paid for by Federal taxes. And ALL subject to the whims of Congress and the voting public for financing.
    The OTHER "big government", while also wishing to eradicate poverty, social inequality and pollution, doesn't rely on programs that require Federal funding which may, or may not, be forthcoming. It relies on Federal legislation and regulations that must be commplied with on pain of jail or a fine, presuming compliance to be the norm, which it often (usually?) is. The results are about the same, BUT the second form of "big government" is less directly intrusive and much harder to drum up opposition to.
    In other words, the Federal government sets standards, private entities are required to abide by those standards or face fines and penalties. The Federal government hasn't really reduced its role in governing the country, but it HAS reduced its governing profile.
    People still expect the local and state governments to provide, at a minimu, schools, roads, police and fire services and to handle water safety and sewage treatment. People still expect the Federal government to do a myriad of things, from maintaining the armed forces to the EPA, Social Security, Medicare and hundreds of things in between. It's no coincidence that the more Republicans try to dismantly the social, economic and ecological safety nets, their poll numbers drop.
    Republicans are very good at playing up anecdotal "evidence" of misuse or fraud involving government programs. So good in fact, that many people fall for their shpiel; at least until the financial axe is lowered.
    Governments, at EVERY level, are run by bureaucracies and bureaucracies have a tendency to solve problems the "easy" way - by spending money. Sometimes spending helps, but too often people only remember when it doesn't.
    Republicans count on that...

  • gmonsen on July 09, 2011 11:17 AM:

    It seems as though Steve here makes up what the GOP believes in order to smack it down. He says the GOP took credit for some improving numbers this spring and are blaming Obama for the numbers now. I'm sorry, just how dud the GOP take credit for the numbers this spring? Steve doesn't quote anyone. He doesn't point to some Republican taking credit for those spring numbers.

    The GOP has been saying Obama owns the economy since Obama became president. something about the Truman-esque, "the Buck stops here". Obama on the other hand has never taken responsibility for the economy until some half-hearted acceptance recently that has been more forced n him by reality like castor oil down a child's throat. He has blamed Bush for 2 and a half years. Driven us into a ditch.

    So, specious comments like the GOP took credit for the good and now blame Obama for the bad in order to make some silly point is just... silly. Obama owns this mess. He is tagged with it like a tall thin Pinata and he will be whacked and whacked and whacked by what will continue to be a worsening economy until the Pinata breaks open next November and the GOP presidential candy falls out.

  • hondr on July 09, 2011 3:09 PM:

    So let me get this straight. You lefties borrowed and wasted $1T on your much beloved Porkulus bill, which cost $278,000 for every job allegedly "created"... and you want to do it all over again?

    You want to slam down ANOTHER $3,000 in debt onto the head of each and everybody in this country, all 310M of us? That's your plan?

    Now you know why you and Obama are gonna get thrown into the waste bin.

  • SteveThomas on July 09, 2011 5:45 PM:

    And incidentally, contrary to this blithering idiot's contention that the free market is being left to it's own devices, nothing is further from the truth. Hyper regulation, obamacare, and concern about new taxes to cover obummer's insane level of spending have put the market into a straightjacket. What kind of brainless gob writes or believes this nonsense?

  • RedMoonProject on July 10, 2011 8:24 AM:

    It is indeed greatly amusing to see the left twist itself into intellectual pretzels in order to try to explain away the obvious failure of Obama's push towards Keynesian socialism. The left has gotten everything that they screeched that they wanted and yet now, somehow, they think that more of the same will result in a different economic outcome. Democrats handed us trillions in new debt, Obama-care and a mountain of crushing regulations to "fix" the economy while shutting Republicans and conservatives out of the process.

    If that was going to work, would it not have worked already?

    But of course intelligent people know that socialism has been a failure everywhere it has been tried. And most of the rest of the developed world is now turning away from that failed economic model and back to more free markets. I guess that some people are just slow learners.

  • Shecky on July 11, 2011 11:30 AM:

    ...it's those damn ATM's that're the cause of all this.