Political Animal


August 09, 2011 8:45 AM Why the GOP is against the ideas they’re for

By Steve Benen

For the last several weeks, President Obama has been eager to demonstrate the fact he has some credible ideas that could help the economy. The problem, of course, is that the president doesn’t want to push ideas he knows will fail in Congress, so he’s left to pursue more modest measures that might have a shot.

At the top of the list is an extension of the payroll tax cut. From Obama’s perspective, this should be a no-brainer — not only do Republicans love tax cuts like these, but failing to pass an extension would mean a tax increase at a very inopportune time. Even GOP leaders, for their madness, should be able to work with the White House on this.

But they’re not. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared on Fox News over the weekend that he’s opposed to a payroll tax cut extension because “it would simply exacerbate our debt problems.”

Republicans have declared countless times that allowing taxes to go up when the economy is weak would be a disaster, and yet, here we are.

Jon Chait noted that Paul Ryan, during the 2001 recession, argued the exact opposite

To recap: In 2001, we faced a mild downturn, one which monetary policy was more than adequate to address. Ryan was nonetheless enough of an ultra-Keynesian to insist on immediate stimulative tax cuts to boost demand. Now, we face a massive economic crisis and the Federal reserve is almost out of ammunition. Now Ryan has been converted to an odd, economic doctrine that insists on imposing contractionary fiscal policy. I’m sure that in Ryan’s mind, there’s some deeper principle at work than “stimulate the economy under Republican presidents and de-stimulate it under Democratic presidents.” But that is functionally the Republican position.

As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently argued, “If they oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they’re just opposing anything that helps create jobs. It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.”

This is the whole point of the “sabotage” question. The argument isn’t that Republicans have conservative ideas about helping the economy. Questioning their motivations on this alone would be foolish. The point, rather, is that Republicans have begun rejecting their own ideas about helping the economy.

In the larger context, it’s possible House Republican leaders, in their heart of hearts, actually support an extension of the payroll tax cut, but just aren’t willing to say so. Why not? Because then they lose leverage — GOP officials know the White House wants this, and if they simply agree to pass the measure, they won’t get anything extra out of the deal.

It’s likely, then, that congressional Republicans will simply hold the payroll tax cut hostage, and demand other goodies from Democrats in exchange for doing what the GOP wants to do anyway. If Dems give in, Republicans get more of what they want. If Dems don’t, Republicans will blame Dems for raising middle-class taxes, even if it’s obviously the GOP’s fault.

And what kind of ransom would Republicans expect for this? Apparently, they want a tax break for repatriating overseas corporate funds, which didn’t work when it was tried seven years ago, which is fundamentally regressive, and which would worsen the deficit the GOP pretends to care about.

The 2010 midterms continue to look like the biggest mistake Americans have made in a long while.

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.


Post a comment
  • MattF on August 09, 2011 8:55 AM:

    It's been apparent for eons that power is the primary thing that interests Republicans. Certainly not economics, not (heavens to Betsy!) jobs, and not (ha, ha) policy.

    Coming in second and third are money and sex... perhaps needless to say.

  • c u n d gulag on August 09, 2011 8:57 AM:

    Conservatives will tell you that "In 2010, the people SPOKE!"

    What they won't tell is that they spoke because most of them couldn't read or write.

    As for the Republicans in Congress, cue the late, great, great, Groucho Marx (much funnier than this brother Karl):
    "Whatever it is, I'm against it!"


  • T2 on August 09, 2011 9:06 AM:

    I was just listening to NPR interview Barney Frank on the state of the debt, debit, etc. and the interviewer asked Frank if the Dems were willing to compromise on entitlements such as medicare and SocSec. Frank immediately said, paraphrasing, that SocSec was not an entitlement and not part of the problem. To which NPR said, quoting, "let's stipulate" that SocSec is an entitlement... Frank interrupted and said, again paraphrasing, "No,I won't "stipulate", it is a self funded and it is not an entitlement".
    At which point NPR said "I have to cut you off we're out of time".
    As soon as they got answers that did not fit the established storyline- NPR just stopped talking. NPR. Maybe the next time the GOP wants to defund NPR, I won't be in there way.

  • msmolly on August 09, 2011 9:07 AM:

    You give Obama far too much credit. His credible ideas are to cut SS and Medicare, while increasing -- INCREASING -- our stay in Iraq.

    Worst. President. Ever.

  • berttheclock on August 09, 2011 9:07 AM:

    Perhaps the President could use his Bully Pulpit to tell the American people John Boehner should remain as Speaker of the House.

    Cantor and Ryan - Start your "Hell No" machines.

  • walt on August 09, 2011 9:09 AM:

    I spent last week with a right-wing lady NOT talking about politics. But a few things slipped out to spell out her view of things. A) Obama is evil. B) Liberals are evil. C) Democrats are evil. She doesn't watch the news or read newspapers. She gets most of her opinions from chain e-mails.

    Republicans inhabit a zone where there's no accountability or consistency. They don't have to because millions of Americans are like my friend who are utterly ignorant of political reality. Politics for them is a morality play where one party (the GOP) fights for white people and the other party doesn't.

    We're going to keep losing these battles until either this nation's demographics change or enough government-hating Republicans suffer to the point that they demand government action. You don't argue with their insanity because there's no place for reason in our discourse now. We have been checkmated.

  • ComradeAnon on August 09, 2011 9:11 AM:

    Tax cuts in this political environment represent a very thin, sharp line. I do want to see the money go into the hands of the middle class, but that 2% Social Security tax cut is likely permanent. The Norquist zombies won't allow that to go back up. We still have a revenue problem, not a spending problem.

    This is a slippery slope that's just about vertical.

  • Gandalf on August 09, 2011 9:13 AM:

    msmolly I can't begin to tell you how delusional you are. Maybe you would have preferred Mcain or you think Bachmann would do a better job. Based on yor commentary Your ideal president would be santa clause or the easter bunny and we could have tinker bell as vp.

  • Anonymous on August 09, 2011 9:14 AM:

    "President Obama has been eager to demonstrate the fact he has some credible ideas that could help the economy. The problem, of course, is that the president doesn’t want to push ideas he knows will fail in Congress, so he’s left to pursue more modest measures that might have a shot."

    Is that what it is? Why does he not want to push for his ideas, let the crazies in Congress shoot them down, then campaign on that?

  • Live Free or Die on August 09, 2011 9:14 AM:

    I have to head out, but I would like to add that Obama needs get off of the hamster wheel, go to Camp David for a few days or a week,power down, contemplate what he really wants to do, and then hit the reset button. Clean house, get a new team. Tell Americans that he is going in a different direction. Talk not about "stimulus". It is a dirty word. Talk about rebuilding crappy bridges and roads, and a jobs bill. Go to a district with crappy road and show Americans literally the crappy roads. Show them the potholes, the rusted bridges. Tell them they need a new bridge. Tell them that if we fix them, it is create X amount of construction jobs in the district. To construct something you need materials. That means steel and cement companies will have to hire more people. The projects are going to need tractors, so Caterpillar and other companies will have to hire people. You need diesel to run these tractors and oil and gas to run the new plants. The energy industry will have to hire more people. Architecture firms will have to hire people to design the projects. The new construction workers will have to eat lunch. That means restaurant or roach coaches will have to hire more people to serve them food. The restaurant will need more food as a consequence. Grocery stores and food companies will have to hire more people. And so on. All the new people hire, will end up spending money that they did not have before on things that they needed or wanted. Other industries will have to hire more people to service these new people reentering the workforce. Obama needs to explain it to people in terms that they can understand. Go to Republican districts and point this out. Bush repeatedly did this (on taxes and stuff) and it was successful.

  • T2 on August 09, 2011 9:21 AM:

    through a relative, I'm familiar with those chain emails....lots of them originate,not surprisingly, at Karl Rove-type organizations, but lots of them originate from evangelical church groups. Spreading hate from behind the curtain of God. Like the groups that paid for Rick Perry's Homophobic Prayer/Hate fest last weekend. If you are scared of black people and gay people.....well the only place you can go is the Republican Party.

  • Mark on August 09, 2011 9:22 AM:

    "the president doesn’t want to push ideas he knows will fail in Congress, so he’s left to pursue more modest measures that might have a shot."

    And that is why he's failing. You think Bush "held back" on his agenda because of his fear of push back from democrats in congress??

    If Obama wants 50 cents from congress, he needs to start asking for $100 now. His problem is he starts in the middle and gets ground down to the crap that's right of center. He needs to start hard left and end up in the middle.

  • Kathryn on August 09, 2011 9:26 AM:

    Live Free or Die, you are right, right, right. Does anybody at the White House read this blog? Rachel, do you have a pipeline to anybody there, Rachel Maddow that is? I know she reads Steve Bennen.

  • calling all toasters on August 09, 2011 9:29 AM:

    The problem, of course, is that the president is the world's worst negotiator

    it's possible House Republican leaders, in their heart of hearts, actually support an extension of the payroll tax cut, but just aren't willing to say so. Why not? Because they're actually pretty good at negotiating
    FTFY, too

  • steve duncan on August 09, 2011 9:44 AM:

    Class resentment plays a big part in Republican campaign strategy. "The Other", minorities, the poor, the elderly (the new "leeches" on the government teat to hear them tell it) and others are all going to be even more downtrodden and beseeching of Washington for help by the 2012 election. Of course Republicans will say they need elected or reelected to keep the voracious government money zombies on the other side of the barricade. "Vote Republican or the welfare sucking ni#@$rs, sp#cs, illegals and blue-hairs are going to take all your money with the help of Democrats" will be the none to subtle messaging the next election.
    You get the representation you deserve. I have a suspicion the electorate will compound the 2010 mid-terms debacle by voting for another round of the same. Polling booth hair-of-the-dog. If you haven't converted your stocks and gold to beans, rice, drinking water and ammo by now you might be shortsighted or a hopeless optimist.

  • Left Wing Conservative on August 09, 2011 9:51 AM:

    The problem, of course, is that the president doesn’t want to push ideas he knows will fail in Congress, so he’s left to pursue more modest measures that might have a shot.

    See, the above statement is EXACTLY the problem. You don't stop talking about and pushing your ideas just because the other side won't pass them. You keep pushing and pushing harder, you make THEM the talking points. That's what the other side does and it works, it would even eventually penetrate the horribly biased MSM so they would be forced to talk about these ideas and the Republican opposition. Why would you give up on your ideas just because the other side will fight against them? This is my problem with Obama and frankly, with Steve Benen, although... I keep reading him.

  • steve duncan on August 09, 2011 10:02 AM:

    Mark on August 09, 2011 9:22 AM:

    "If Obama wants 50 cents from congress, he needs to start asking for $100 now. His problem is he starts in the middle and gets ground down to the crap that's right of center."
    The filibuster in the Senate and cloture rules mean Republicans don't have to give Obama a damned thing unless they agree to it. Obama can ask for 50 cents and Republicans can tell him to shove it he's not getting a nickel. And that's the end of discussion. They're just waiting him out. November 2012 isn't that far off and their chips are already placed on the bet they will beat him. If they don't it'll be just another four years of play time in the mud puddle as far as they're concerned.

  • Josef K on August 09, 2011 10:06 AM:

    I can't argue with the various comments here laying blame at the President's tendency to negotiate and seek 'consensus'. Our frustration with the man and his methods is palpable and (I think) fully justified.

    The trouble is we're stuck with a system that has been tuned to be completely unresponsive to the public and crisis. There are too many veto points for a motivated minority to step in and stop things; Cantor and his tea party fools recent behavior being a case in point. True, we'd like the President to start acting bolder (which I fear is completely against his nature and m.o.), but what if he did? What if he offered a bold, proactive jobs program that would lead to 10 million new jobs?

    Cantor and his fools wouldn't allow it to happen, Boehner and McConnell would let it die, the public would naturally be outraged, and the GOP would just continue on as before. They've proven themselves essentially impervious to public disapproval and interests, either being too well-heeled or too wedded to their ideology to care.

    One would hope this changes, and soon. In case anyone's missed it, practically the whole of southern England is literally on fire right now, thanks in large measure to the very sort of blinkered ideology the GOP is running on right now. If that's not a warning sign, I'm not sure what is.

  • berttheclock on August 09, 2011 10:14 AM:

    For once, Moaning Joe, may have been correct. He said he believes Obama wants to be a moderator and, not, a negotiator.

    Of course, there may be better ways to begin negotiations than saying to the other side, "Will we able to keep our mules for spring planting?"

  • POed Lib on August 09, 2011 10:15 AM:

    The problem with the payroll tax holiday is that it is a FUCKING STUPID STUPID IDEA. Why Obama is pushing it I have no idea. Ryan is an idiot, but he is right in this.

    The payroll tax holiday weakens Social Security. Another Loser Obama idea. Where does he come up with this shit, anyway? Oh, I forgot - he's a Republican. He gets them from Norquist.

    Note to Steve: Just because Obama said it does NOT make it a good idea. The payroll tax holiday is fucking stupid.

  • karen marie on August 09, 2011 10:24 AM:

    Oh, come on, this is easy! Ryan is willing to oppose a payroll tax cut because it doesn't affect his sponsors. You can be sure if it were the Bush tax cut for those making over $250,000 he would be insisting that be extended. Everyone knows that middle class people don't create jobs.

  • Reginald Perrin on August 09, 2011 10:26 AM:

    But Rep. Ryan, I thought that tax cuts paid for themselves? Or does the tax fairy only appear for Republicans?

  • karen marie on August 09, 2011 10:34 AM:

    I agree with Josef K and others who argue that Obama should be fighting more for a specific jobs agenda. So what if Republicans oppose it? If the public begins to understand what Republicans have rejected, they'll vote them out in 2012. The way things are, Republicans are making hay with the "Obama hasn't proposed anything" meme. That it's actually true gives validation to their other lies.

  • Jon on August 09, 2011 11:05 AM:

    The problem, of course, is that the president doesn’t want to push ideas he knows will fail in Congress

    Indeed, that's the problem. I think he should be pushing all sorts of legislation that he knows the GOP will shoot down, and make a big deal of it as well.

  • james on August 09, 2011 11:08 AM:

    The behavior and public comments of the GOP are consistent with that of a person with untreated mental illness. Apologies to persons with mental illness for comparing them with Republicans.

  • Zorro on August 09, 2011 11:15 AM:

    I again cite the Beatie Boys: "Listen all y'all, it's a sabotage."



  • PTate in MN on August 09, 2011 12:13 PM:

    msmolly, upthread: Jeez, George W. Bush was Worst.President.Ever. There is a world of difference between successfully implementing policies that ended "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity" and being a disappointment to the progressive base.

    So here is how I view the situation as we approach 2012. Obama inherited a messed up economy and a right-wing conservative movement riled up by racism, a wacko Christian fundamentalist worldview and a media propaganda machine. These are people who think Creationism is real. Why would we ever expect them to be capable of reasoning or learning? Or moderation, for that matter.

    So Obama has a choice. He can 1) go head to head with these uncompromising, muddled militants, and they will just grow more unified. Or 2) he can do what he has been doing. He can be tepid, passive, moderate, tolerant....by not giving them a firm target to attack, they increasingly reveal themselves as the dangerous, USA-hating bigots that they are. They don't look like patriots anymore.

    To be honest, it is a kind of brinksmanship that has me terrified. But I also can see that what Obama is doing--if successful--may end the conservative movement and their "we must destroy the nation to save it" approach forever. But his base needs to recognize his long game and act accordingly.

  • jjm on August 09, 2011 12:33 PM:

    Well one thing IS working. Today's CNN poll shows a huge drop in favorables for the REPUBLICANS, while approval/disapproval of Democrats has drawn even rather than tilting unfavorable.

    The people DO know. When the flashy rhetoricians and lying politicians do firmly believe that they can spin reality to suit their aims, people can penetrate the smoke they spread.

    Now, maybe I do have misplaced faith in 'the people.' But with blogs like this able to speak the truth and have friends pass it on to friends, the chain 'emails' of the GOP will ultimately pale in comparison, because really there are more of us than of them.

    I would not count Obama 'out' yet. He's been on the ropes before, and he is very smart and very determined. I fail to see how he could have tried to deal with this ludicrous House in any other way. He came out looking sane, balanced and fair. They came out with 62% of the people believing the GOP tilted the debt ceiling to advantage rich people.

  • Nancy Irving on August 11, 2011 1:56 AM:

    I can't agree with your idea that the GOP, in their heart of hearts, are in favor of a payroll tax cut.

    GOPers are supply-siders; they don't believe that a tax cut for Joe Sixpack (the primary beneficiary of a payroll tax cut), putting extra money in his pocket and thus boosting consumer demand, has any effect on the economy.

    They believe that only tax cuts for the rich--i.e., lowering income, estate, investment and corporate taxes--will create jobs. (Why this would happen in theory is unexplained, and that it doesn't happen in practice is ignored.)

    Indeed, conservatives are actually on record, saying that they support keeping payroll taxes high, partly just because they are regressive, and partly because, being regressive, they increase support among the non-rich for the idea that "taxes are a burden on me," and thus increase support for the general idea among the population at large, that "taxes = bad."