Not one of the choices

NOT ONE OF THE CHOICES…. When it comes to a debate over last year’s economic stimulus, there are a few options available to those offering critiques. One could argue, for example, that the stimulus was a strong package that prevented an economic collapse and worked as intended, but should have been bigger and more ambitious to create a more robust recovery.

Or one might argue that the Recovery Act was just fine the way it was shaped; a bigger one never would have passed Congress; and that the economy will slowly but surely keep growing.

As for the right, which didn’t want any stimulus and pushed a five-year spending freeze at the height of the crisis, the choices are more nuanced. A conservative could argue, for example, that the stimulus was pointless and the economy would be in the identical shape it’s in now had the Recovery Act never passed. A Republican might also argue that a different kind of stimulus — i.e. using that money exclusively for tax cuts — would have been more effective. These arguments are demonstrably false, but presumably one could make them with a straight face.

Arguing that the stimulus actually hurt the economy, however, isn’t one of the choices — because it’s just too crazy. And yet, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) seemed to make this exact argument yesterday in his big economic speech in Cleveland.

“Right now, America’s employers are afraid to invest in an economy stalled by ‘stimulus’ spending….

“By trying to build a recovery on government ‘stimulus’ spending — and failing — Washington has kept the private sector in bust while manufacturing a boom for the public sector.”

I can appreciate how and why the Recovery Act has faced criticism — I’m in the “way too small” camp, myself — but Boehner’s critique really doesn’t make a lick of sense.

The stimulus “stalled” the economy? In what universe is that true? The economy is, to be sure, on shaky ground, but literally just hours after Boehner’s remarks, the Congressional Budget Office said the stimulus boosted overall economic growth in the second quarter by as much as 4.5%. Boehner’s on firm ground complaining about a “stalled” economy, but blaming that on the stimulus is insane.

Likewise, his remark about the stimulus having “kept the private sector in bust” is just gibberish. Private-sector job growth was in freefall before the stimulus, but started recovering soon after the Recovery Act became law. So far in 2010, 630,000 private-sector jobs have been created — which obviously isn’t enough, but is nevertheless a reality at odds with Boehner’s nonsense.

A few months ago, ABC News ran a piece on some economic experts weighing in on the merit of the stimulus — some were fans, some weren’t. But how many economists did ABC find who said the Recovery Act actually hurt the economy? None. It’s just not a credible position.

Someone probably ought to let Boehner know. His credibility seems to be getting worse all the time.