Mitch McConnell is not to be taken seriously, Cont’d

MITCH MCCONNELL IS NOT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY, CONT’D…. Over the weekend, President Obama urged lawmakers to approve nearly $50 billion in emergency aid to state and local governments, which would in turn help the economy and prevent “massive layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) apparently isn’t fond of the idea, because, as he sees it, debt reduction is more important than economic growth. “Right now, among other challenges, we have a debt crisis, a jobs crisis, a housing crisis, a financial crisis, and an oil spill that the American people clearly don’t believe government is effectively responding to,” McConnell said.

At first blush, perhaps the most obvious concern with McConnell’s rhetoric is that all of the crises he lists were either left over by a failed Republican administration and/or the result of a failed Republican approach to governing.

But there’s more to this than just McConnell’s sins of omission. Ezra Klein has a great item on this.

Implicit in McConnell’s remarks is that the American people not only want, but deserve, a more effective government response to these crises. And though you can argue with the size of the Democrats’ package, they’re trying to give them one: State and local aid are crucial to preserving jobs and services, while direct help to small businesses is a sensible way to jump-start hiring. Doing either thing, however, requires a short-term jump in deficits.

McConnell’s statement offers a nice sense of why it’s so difficult to legislate against an irresponsible minority…. [T]his is just an attack on anything the Democrats are doing that doesn’t poll well, even if the two things contradict. The public doesn’t like debt and they don’t like high unemployment, so McConnell hits both notes in an attack against a proposal to mitigate unemployment. It’s effective politics, but it’s not productive in the sense of forcing a policy synthesis Republicans find acceptable or hastening a solution to the underlying problems.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to explain this in a way Mitch McConnell would understand. As 2009 got underway, Republicans had left two huge messes related to the economy: 1) a nearly-catastrophic recession and unemployment crisis; 2) a budget mess, including a $1.3 trillion deficit and $10 trillion debt. Both problems were simply left for the Obama administration to clean up.

The economic question of 2009 was which problem would be addressed first, but there was a catch that went largely unstated. Whichever mess policymakers chose to clean up first would necessarily make the other mess worse. It was simply unavoidable — investing in a recovery would increase the deficit; lowering the deficit would take money out of the economy and exacerbate the recession.

Questions of sincerity notwithstanding, it was the main difference between the Democratic and Republican approaches to the economy — Dems wanted to focus on one of the messes Republicans created (growth and jobs); the GOP wanted to focus on the other (deficit and debt).

That is, it would be the difference if lawmakers like McConnell approached governing with even the slightest bit of seriousness. Notice in his response that there’s nothing even close to coherence — he wants Obama to spend less, and more. He wants the administration to take on a larger role, and smaller. He wants the White House to care more about debt reduction, and less. He wants the president to prioritize investing in job creation, and to stop prioritizing investing in job creation.

Why anyone could take such policy gibberish seriously is a mystery to me.