A ‘BILLION DOLLARS AN HOUR’…. Republican lawmakers always seem to be on the lookout for new ways to measure Obama administration spending. For a while, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), condemning the economic stimulus, had charts to show how tall a pile of $100 bills would be if it totaled $1 trillion. Soon after, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained, “If you started the day Jesus Christ was born and spent $1 million every day since then, you still wouldn’t have spent $1 trillion.”

Now, McConnell has a new one: “In just 50 days, Congress has voted to spend about $1.2 trillion between the Stimulus and the Omnibus. To put that in perspective, that’s about $24 billion a day, or about $1 billion an hour.”

Obviously, the goal is to paint all of this as scary. A billion dollars an hour is supposed to be so startling, it forces the listener to reflexively oppose more spending.

There are, however, a couple of problems here. First, as Michael Scherer explained very well, the number itself is highly misleading and “a great example of fuzzy math.”

It’s true that if you add the stimulus and the omnibus you get about $1.2 trillion. But that money will not be spent in 50 days. The omnibus is a spending bill to run the government over the course of an entire year. (It should have passed last fall, but was delayed for the presidential election and because of partisan infighting.) The stimulus will be paid out over several years, with most of the money going out the door over the next 18 months. So no one is spending a billion dollars an hour. […]

Furthermore, most of this money would have probably been spent even if Republicans controlled congress and John McCain had won the White House. The omnibus had some increases in spending over recent levels, including some departments that got 10 percent increases. But no Republican has proposed not funding the government…. Though the Republican stimulus might have been smaller, and would contain more tax cuts and less spending, it still would have been expensive. In this alternate universe, however, McConnell and his comrades would not be complaining about the pace of McCain’s per-hour spending rate, trying to scare the country with big numbers that don’t mean all that much.

Quite right. But the other annoying thing is the exercise itself. It seems GOP policymakers want, more than anything else, for Americans to recognize just how much money we’re talking about. To do this, they grasp for new and creative measurements — the Jesus timeline, the piles of c-notes, the dollars-per-hour rate — all in a drive to tell the public, “See? This is a lot of money.”

Note to Republican lawmakers: we know it’s a lot of money. That’s not a policy argument.

There’s just no substance here. Democrats see a giant hole in the economy, and left with no other options, are trying to replace the disappearing demand with government stimulus. The point isn’t to measure the bills on a dollar-per-hour basis; the point is to address the global economic catastrophe.

Instead of trying to come up with policy solutions, Republican leader are trying to come up with metaphors. It’s sad to watch, actually.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.