Not even the basics

NOT EVEN THE BASICS…. It’s tempting to think the debate over an economic recovery plan would start with an obvious foundation. It’s obvious, given the circumstances and exhausted options, that the economy needs a government stimulus. With this reality in mind, competing contingents can then discuss how much should be spent, where it should be invested, how quickly, etc.

But one of the reasons this stimulus debate has been such a mess is that a sizable chunk of the minority party can’t even accept the basics.

[H]ow many Republicans are even open to the need for fixing the economy through government spending?

As The Washington Independent’s Dave Weigel points out, that question seems to have been answered in a Senate vote last night. When Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) offered an alternative stimulus plan that would replace all government spending in the stimulus with a series of tax cuts, 36 Republican senators voted for it.

To emphasize the point, that means all but four GOPers were perfectly happy with scrapping the core assumption of the president’s plan. Here, then, are the four Republican senators whom Obama has the best shot at working with: Susan Collins (ME), George Voinovich (OH), Arlen Specter (PA), and Olympia Snowe (ME).

Yes, just four. If we discount Judd Gregg, who recused himself and is headed for the cabinet, this means 36 out of 40 Republican senators — 90% of the Senate caucus — voted against the very idea of a stimulus plan.

It led Josh Marshall to call the GOP the “Neanderthal Party,” adding, “This approaches flat earth territory in terms of where the economy is right now and what conventional macroeconomics suggests about how to combat the problem.”

That’s true, but let’s go one step further. Frankly, if 90% of Senate Republicans want to be the “Neanderthal Party,” they’re entitled. To borrow a phrase, Neanderthals need representation, too. If today’s GOP sincerely believes, reality notwithstanding, that it’s better to cut taxes yet again than inject capital into the economy, then yesterday’s vote was wholly consistent with the party’s policy vision.

The next question, though, is why anyone would bother negotiating with 36 senators who believe up is down and black is white. As Brian Beutler explained nicely, “[B]ipartisanship doesn’t help anybody if two parties are approaching the same problem from incompatible vantage points. If Barack Obama really ‘rejects’ the economic philosophies of the right, then he might as well go negotiate with yogurt. That might at least help him think through his own goals for the stimulus package. And if not? Hey! Free yogurt!”

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation