An economic 9/11

AN ECONOMIC 9/11…. Following up on Rep. Barney Frank’s argument connecting war spending with stimulus spending, the New York TimesFrank Rich raised a good point yesterday that policymakers should keep in mind this week.

The current G.O.P. acts as if it — and we — have all the time in the world…. The party’s sole consistent ambition is to play petty politics to gum up the works. […]

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. To paraphrase a dictum that has been variously attributed to two of our most storied leaders in times of great challenge, Thomas Paine and George Patton, the Republicans should either lead, follow or get out of the grown-ups’ way.

I argued over the weekend that the political world has been looking at the stimulus debate the wrong way, inasmuch as many believe it’s President Obama’s job to make far-right lawmakers happy. But Rich’s point is even more important: we’re dealing with an “emergency that’s as trying as war,” except the minority party isn’t treating it as such.

Perhaps the establishment should think of this like an economic 9/11. In September 2001, and in the years that followed, lawmakers didn’t resist the requests of the president when it came to national security, military spending, and foreign policy — if Bush wanted it, he got it. No questions asked (indeed, no questions allowed).

This crisis is obviously a different animal, but there are parallels. In 2001, our security was at stake. In 2009, our prosperity is at stake. In 2001, we had a president anxious to deal with a crisis with a response that would cost a fortune. In 2009, we have a president anxious to deal with a crisis with a response that will also cost a fortune. In 2001, the cost of inaction was unthinkable. In 2009, inaction — or inadequate action — can have lasting negative consequences.

“Whatever it takes” has been a common phrase when it comes to U.S. counter-terrorism policy. It didn’t matter what it cost; we’d spend whatever we had to spend to protect the country. Parochial concerns and budget discipline would have to wait.

Is it too much to ask lawmakers to think that way again?

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