The ‘sabotage’ question goes mainstream

In November, I faced all kinds of pushback by raising a provocative argument: is it possible Republicans would pursue policies that would hurt the economy on purpose?

Seven months later, it appears the “sabotage” question is going mainstream.

E.J. Dionne Jr. inched pretty close to it last week, noting that Republicans “have no interest” in working on job creation because “Republicans benefit if the economy stays sluggish.” Kevin Drum wondered whether this will ever be “a serious talking point,” adding, “No serious person in a position of real influence really wants to accuse an entire party of cynically trying to tank the economy, after all.”

That appears to be changing.

Republicans are sabotaging economic recovery efforts because it will help them win in 2012, Senate Democratic leaders charged Wednesday.

“Unfortunately our Republican colleagues in the House and Senate are driven by putting one man out of work — President Obama,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) declared at a Capitol Hill press conference called the day after Senate Republicans blocked an economic development bill that they have backed in the past.

Durbin pointed to remarks made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in which he said the top goal of Republicans should be to make Obama a one-term President.

Durbin added that “their only goal” is to defeat the president, adding, “They believe a weak economy is there best chance of winning the next election.”

This isn’t subtle. Durbin is saying that Republicans are deliberately holding back the economy for purely partisan reasons. It’s an explosive charge, and as of today, he’s not the only one making it.

The rhetorical shift appears to the result of last night’s vote on the Economic Development Administration, a successful program that provides federal grants to local projects. Republicans have repeatedly said that they believe the EDA is great for economic growth and job creation, but they nevertheless linked arms and killed the bill. This comes after Republicans balked at a payroll tax cut intended to spur hiring, another measure the GOP has traditionally supported — until now.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the number three Democrat in the chamber, told reporters this morning, “If they oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they’re just opposing anything that helps create jobs. It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.”

Yes, almost.

At a minimum, it hardly seems unreasonable to call for some national discussion on this. Republicans said a payroll tax cut would help create jobs, and now they’re opposed to their own idea. Republicans said the Economic Development Administration is great for the economy, and now they’re opposed to that, too. Many Republicans endorsed the TANF Emergency Fund last year as an incredibly effective method of lowering unemployment, and then the congressional GOP killed that, too.

Republicans are blocking qualified Federal Reserve nominees who could help improve the economy. Republicans are also blocking qualified Treasury Department nominees who could also be working on economic policy. The GOP is demanding that Congress and the White House agree to immediately take money out of the economy and eliminate public-sector jobs, even when conservative economists say that’s crazy. What’s more, these same Republican officials have made it abundantly clear that failure to give them the cuts they want would force them to crash the economy on purpose.

And it’s against this backdrop that one of the most powerful Republican officials on Capitol Hill has argued, more than once, that his “top priority” isn’t job creation, but rather, “denying President Obama a second term in office.”

Is it really that outrageous to at least ask the question? It’s an uncomfortable subject, to be sure, but maybe it’s possible the political world should have the awkward conversation? When Republicans oppose ideas they used to support, at a critical time for the economy, are we not even allowed to consider their motives?

Update: I should also note that Senate Dems aren’t the only one broaching the subject. Some respected and knowledge pundits — Dionne, Eugene Robinson, Daniel Gross — have all said recently it’s at least possible that some Republicans are pursuing a destructive economic policy on purpose.