Spending freeze

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.