The talking point I’m still waiting to hear

THE TALKING POINT I’M STILL WAITING TO HEAR…. On “This Week” yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said we can’t raise anyone’s taxes “in the middle of a recession.” He liked the phrase so much, McConnell used it four times during the interview.

It’s a weak argument. For one thing, we’re not in the middle of a recession. For another, most economists agree that allowing the wealthy to start paying Clinton-era top marginal rates again would have little, if any, effect on the economy. (In recent decades, both Reagan and Clinton raised taxes during difficult economic times, and both saw the economy grow soon after.)

But putting all of that aside, there’s one talking point that happens be true, but which is seldom repeated: we shouldn’t cut spending during difficult economic times, either. The flip side — tax increases during tough times is outrageous — is ubiquitous, but this talking point is generally nowhere to be found.

I found this exchange between McConnell and Christiane Amanpour both fascinating and painful.

AMANPOUR: [T]here’s also this huge thing that the people of the United States are worried about, and that is the deficit…. and keeping the tax cuts will add trillions to that. And let me ask you this. According to Howard Gleckman at the Tax Policy Center — let’s see what he’s just written — “McConnell would have to abolish all the rest of the government to get a balance by 2020, everything. No more national parks, no more NIH, no more highway construction, no more homeland security, oh, and no more Congress.”

MCCONNELL: Let me tell you how I’d reduce the deficit. There are two things you need to do. Number one, you need to get spending down, and number two, we need to get the economy going.

In McConnell’s mind, taking money out of the economy during a difficult time would make the economy stronger. And why does he think that makes sense? He didn’t say, but he went on to argue:

MCCONNELL: Everything that’s happened in the last year-and-a-half has been to pump up the government. We borrowed stimulus money. We spent it to hire new federal government workers. We sent it down to states so they would not have to lay off state workers. You have to get the economy going.

I realize McConnell’s understanding of this is limited, but it’s really not that complicated. We used public resources to create millions of jobs, and save many more workers who would have been laid off. They, in turn, had money to spend and invest, which then contributed to broader growth. It’s why the economy started growing last year, and why the economy has added 763,000 private-sector jobs just this year.

As McConnell sees it, the U.S. economy would be better off if those millions of Americans had lost their jobs, and not had income to spend. That’s how we “get the economy going.”

I realize there are Americans who find this persuasive. I have no idea why.