A pre-recession mindset

A PRE-RECESSION MINDSET…. About a month ago, the New York Times‘ Frank Rich, commenting on the Republican Party’s approach to the economy, said, “The nightmare is that we have so irrelevant, clownish and childish an opposition party at a moment when America is in an all-hands-on-deck emergency that’s as trying as war.”

As “trying as war” strikes me as the key point that seems to go overlooked. The ongoing crisis is, by most measures, the economic equivalent of a 9/11-style terrorist attack. “Everything changed” in September 2001? Everything should change now.

Hilzoy flagged this Bloomberg piece last night, which helps prove just how little has actually changed.

President Barack Obama’s economic advisers are increasingly concerned about the U.S. Senate’s delay in confirming the nominations of Austan Goolsbee and Cecilia Rouse to the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Without Senate confirmation, the two economists are barred from advising the president as the administration tackles the worst financial crisis in 70 years and tries to advance the spending plan Obama submitted to Congress last week.

“It’s frustrating,” said Christina Romer, who heads the three-member CEA. “These are hard economic times and we desperately want to get them through the Senate and definitely on the job.”

“They are both superb economists,” she said. “I can’t imagine what the holdup is.”

The holdup, alas, is not a mystery. Goolsbee and Rouse were poised to be confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 20. Senate Republicans delayed the committee process, and have pushed off confirmation. Apparently, the GOP believes anonymous holds and delaying tactics are warranted because, as they see it, some of Bush’s nominees for the White House Council of Economic Advisers were mistreated by Senate Democrats.

Everyone agrees that Goolsbee and Rouse are qualified and ready to get to work, but Republicans are looking for some cheap payback.

Democrats were (falsely) accused in recent years of having a “pre-9/11 mindset.” It’s time the political world comes to terms with the fact that Republicans are guilty of a “pre-recession mindset.”

Imagine if, in late 2001, George W. Bush were putting together a team of national security advisors, and Senate Democrats put anonymous holds on his well-qualified choices because of something that may or may not have happened during Clinton’s presidency. Most political observers would consider this crazy, and they’d be right. And yet, here we are.

It’s not just Goolsbee and Rouse, either. Annette Nazareth, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s top choice to be his deputy Treasury Secretary, withdrew from consideration yesterday, as did Geithner’s pick for undersecretary of international affairs, in part because Republican lawmakers were poised to make political hay over Nazareth’s background at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What are we left with? Republicans are pushing the same tax cuts they wanted before the recession. They’re making the same arguments about spending they offered before the recession. They’re engaged in the same petty games they enjoyed before the recession. In the midst of “an all-hands-on-deck emergency that’s as trying as war,” and in “the throes of a catastrophic economic crisis,” the failed minority party, ignoring the election results, public opinion, and everything we know about economics, have the same approach to the economy that they had at this point a year ago. And the year before that. And the year before that.

In fairness, the administration is not without fault. Too many Treasury Department offices are empty, in large part because of the administration’s vetting process. For that matter, administration officials, as Paul Krugman explained this morning, “don’t want to face up to the dire state of major financial institutions because it’s very hard to rescue an essentially insolvent bank without, at least temporarily, taking it over. And temporary nationalization is still, apparently, considered unthinkable.”

But at least the president and his team recognize the crisis for what it is. Perhaps, one of these days, Republicans will shake their “pre-recession mindset” and improve the government’s ability to respond to the economic 9/11.