As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Here Come The Obstructionists

Mitch McConnell is very concerned about the people's money, and wants hearings.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced skepticism today about the emerging economic stimulus plan, applying a brake to Democratic plans to quickly pass up to $850 billion in spending and tax cuts soon after President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.

"As of right now, Americans are left with more questions than answers about this unprecedented government spending, and I believe the taxpayers deserve to know a lot more about where it will be spent before we consider passing it," McConnell said in a statement, which will be publicly issued later today.

Obama's advisers and congressional Democrats have been huddling in the Capitol trying to craft a massive stimulus plan that could cost anywhere from $675 billion to $850 billion, while some economists are pushing for a total package worth more than $1 trillion.

McConnell -- the most powerful Republican in Washington, based on the filibuster-proof level of 41 GOP Senate seats -- called for many congressional hearings on the stimulus plan and some undetermined safeguards to assure the money is being spent wisely [...]

McConnell specifically called for a weeklong cooling off period between when the bill is drafted and when it is voted on, allowing time to dissect it for signs of "fraud and waste."

I have no problem with a 72-hour rule between drafting a bill and voting on it, but I am touched by the newfound concern of Congressional Republicans about fraud and waste. They took an eight-year break from caring about this, and allowed giant bricks of money to be given away in Iraq, and a government concerned far more with profit taking than fulfilling its regulatory mission. But they can be forgiven for this temporary lack of attention to the destination of taxpayer money. After all, it's a new year coming up, and change is in the air.

It was obvious that the GOP would work to obstruct a stimulus package early in Obama's term. It's worth asking why. I understand why they would want to stop increased union membership that would come from fair labor laws like the Employee Free Choice Act - more union members vote Democratic. And shutting down universal health care would deny Democrats the ability to provide a tangible improvement to the lives of millions of Americans. That's part of why they would want to obstruct public works spending, but there may also be a political consideration, as explained nicely by Nate Silver:

So let's think through the other couple of choices. First thing first: if the economy improves substantially by the midterm elections, you're screwed. It won't matter whether you voted for the stimulus or voted against it, and it won't matter whether you achieved some kind of compromise or you didn't. If, by the summer of 2010, GDP growth has miraculously recovered to 4% per year, that's all the public is going to think about. Obama Save Economy!! Me Vote Democrat!! They aren't going to care about whether you snuck some sort of capital gains tax cut in there.

But let's say that the economy still sucks in 2010 -- which, frankly, is a pretty good bet. That's going to work much, much better for you if you've voted against the stimulus. Not only can you pin the blame on the donkeys, but you can campaign on tax cutting and fiscal responsibility -- the stimulus will "prove", once and for all, the wisdom of conservative economic principles. And then think about this: the Democrats are going to be trying to spend $800 billion in taxpayer dollars as quickly as they can possibly get away with it. Somewhere along the way, they're going to wind up funding a Woodstock Museum or a Bridge to Nowhere. Somewhere along the way, an enterprising contractor is going to embezzle a bunch of stimulus money, or cook up some kind of pay-to-play scheme. Maybe if you're really lucky, this will happen in your Distrct. Better to keep the whole thing at arm's-length and make sure that Democrats get the blame for that.

That's maybe part of it. But the simplest and therefore most likely explanation is that they oppose it because Democrats favor it. This is, in general terms, how modern Republicans practice politics - by being the biggest pains in the ass possible. "Because they can" is probably the most obvious answer. This is especially true when you have a rump conservative faction committed to fighting the pointy-headed elites to preserve Southern honor:

All the signs are that the stimulus spending will be opposed by congressional Republicans, whose shrunken ranks are increasingly dominated by right-wing Southerners who care not what their stance does to harm the party's national image.

The spectacle of LaHood facing off in congressional testimony against those naysayers will dramatize a split that is crippling the GOP.

The danger became apparent as far back as 2007. With Bush weakened by the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and the midterm election losses of 2006, a Southern-led revolt killed his immigration reform bill. Junior senators such as Jim DeMint of South Carolina directed the rebellion, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, unable to stem the insurgency, joined it.

The price was paid in the 2008 presidential campaign. Despite his personal credentials as a sponsor of comprehensive immigration reform, John McCain was caught in the backlash of anti-GOP voting by Hispanics. It contributed to his loss of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida and other states.

The same thing happened this year when Bush supported a bailout for the Big Three auto companies. Led by Republican senators from Southern states where there are many foreign-owned auto plants, the Senate refused to cut off a filibuster against the bill to provide bridge loans to General Motors and Chrysler. This time, the opposition was led by Bob Corker of Tennessee and Richard Shelby of Alabama. When the Senate failed by eight votes to cut off debate, Southern and border-state Republicans voted 16 to 2 against the measure. On a similar vote on the 2007 immigration bill, the Southerners split 17 to 3 against.

Obstructing on the basis of principle or holding out for a particular point of compromise is a very different animal than obstructing for obstruction's sake, obstructing because, if a bunch of egghead economists say we need a massive public spending program, then real Murcans have to stand astride history saying "stop". As we hear a lot about bipartisanship and Republicans and Democrats having to come together to solve the nation's problems, as we hear from a President whose focus is "what works" instead of ideology, someone's going to have to stand up and mention that the modern Republican Party defines ideology through negation. Someone might want to mention that there's no compromise with those who reflexively oppose for no reason other than denying your opponent a victory is seen as a higher good than helping someone get a job or health care or a higher wage to support their family. Someone might want to suggest that accommodation is impossible.

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