Brooksian common ground

BROOKSIAN COMMON GROUND…. Responding to David Brooks’ column earlier, I had a few areas of concern. In fairness, I should note that in his advice to President Obama about the economy, the NYT columnist had a few thoughts that were more compelling.

[Y]ou have your doubts, but you are practical. You want to do something. Too much debt could lead to national catastrophe. Too much austerity could lead to stagnation.

Well, there’s a few short-term things you can do. First, extend unemployment insurance; that’s a foolish place to begin budget-balancing. Second, you need to mitigate the pain caused by the state governments that are slashing spending. You need a program modeled on Race to the Top. You will provide federal money now to states that pass responsible long-term budget plans that will reduce spending and pension commitments. That would save public-sector jobs and ease contractionary pressures without throwing the country into a fiscal-debt spiral.

But the overall message is: Don’t be arrogant. This year, don’t engage in reckless new borrowing or reckless new cutting. Focus on the fundamentals. Cut programs that don’t enhance productivity. Spend more on those that do.

Some of this is vague and unhelpful — Do what works, don’t do what doesn’t? I think we knew that — but Brooks nevertheless gets around to endorsing several positions the Obama White House already supports. The columnist sees the obvious benefit of extending unemployment benefits, for example, and so do Democrats. Brooks wants to see Congress extend aid to states as a way to help stem the unemployment tide, and so do Democrats. He makes it seem like common-sense moves, which they are.

Those steps wouldn’t be enough, but it does matter that in a column deriding “Demand Siders,” with their annoyingly “high I.Q.’s,” Brooks eventually endorses two of the key elements of the Democrats’ jobs bill.

Ezra Klein added, “Now it may be that a retrenchment to state and local aid and unemployment insurance represents a tremendous defeat for those of us who believe the economy needs help. But getting passage of both — and quickly — would also be a huge help to the economy. If you can’t do much more on stimulus, maybe you can at least mitigate some of the pain and prevent some of the most predictable sources of economic contraction.”

Agreed. By all measures, extended jobless aid and state budget assistance won’t be enough to generate a robust recovery. But if “even David Brooks” could be used to help prove the point to, say, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, it’d at least be a step in the right direction.

I’m not optimistic — the rigid, obstructionist GOP leadership is far more influential with even “moderate” senators than the center-right NYT columnist — but at this point, the economic agenda can use all the help it can get.