REPUBLICANS JUST LOST THE DEBATE OVER THE ECONOMY…. Once in a great while, there are key turning points in a policy debate. This might be one of them.

GOP Whip Eric Cantor … accused Democrats of “overreacting” to the economic crisis by embarking on a federal spending spree.

The Virginia Republican, speaking to reporters at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday morning, praised Rush Limbaugh for his “ideas” and for avoiding the Democratic error of “overreacting, as they often will, to crisis.”

He went on to criticize Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s recent statement that the biggest danger was “doing too little” to deal with the meltdown.

“Doing too much has huge, huge pitfalls as well,” he said.

This explains quite a bit. Why have Republicans refused to take the economic crisis seriously? Why have they offered the same tired, failed economic ideas they’ve been spouting for decades?

It’s simple, really. As Cantor explained, the minority party is worried about “overreacting.” Where most sensible people see a global, generational economic crisis, one of the leaders of the Beavis and Butthead Party see a regular ol’ downturn. No wonder the GOP rejects the very idea of stimulating the economy, reforming the regulatory system, and addressing the pitfalls that created the crisis. As far as Cantor & Co. are concerned, there is no crisis.

Cantor’s timing could have been better. While he was accusing Democratic officials of caring too much about economic growth and ending the crisis, the Labor Department reported that “initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to a seasonally adjusted 669,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 657,000. That total was above analysts’ expectations and the highest in more than 26 years.”

With that in mind, Cantor handed Democrats quite a gift this morning. For every American who has lost a job, lost their healthcare, lost their home, and lost their savings, the majority party has a simple message: the Republican leadership believes Democrats are “overreacting” to the crisis.

It’s hard to imagine what Cantor was thinking. Democrats care too much about fixing the economy? That’s the pitch from the House Republican leadership?

Update: Glenn Thrush is walking back his original report quite a bit this afternoon. Here’s Cantor’s full quote; the context is a defense of Rush Limbaugh:

“As far as Rush, Rush has got ideas. He’s got following. He believes in the conservative principles that many of us believe in — of lower taxes, of making sure that we turn back towards a focus on entrepreneurialism in this country, to promoting innovation and not stamping that out by overreacting, if you will, which this town often does, to crisis and that we know — Rahm Emanuel said we are not going to miss the opportunity to take advantage of this crisis cause we are going to do all the things we couldn’t get done before. I think I would say it is not about individual. This country is looking for the ideas that will provide the solutions so they know their kids will be left with a better America. It is about the dream of those kids and what they can grow up to be. And the policies that we put in place today will directly impact that.”

In fairness, that’s quite a bit different than the original reporting on Cantor’s remarks. That said, to my mind, the “overreacting” line still suggests the Minority Whip believes Democrats are doing too much to respond to the economic crisis.

Second Update: Cantor’s office is arguing, aggressively, that he wasn’t referring to Democrats when he talked about the “overreaction.” It’s unclear, though, who else he might have been referencing.

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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.