RARELY IS THE QUESTION ASKED, IS OUR COUNTRY BROKE?…. On “Meet the Press” the other day, host David Gregory asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) whether the economy is strong enough to sustain massive budget cuts. “David,” Boehner replied, “We’re broke.”
It’s become one of the Speaker’s favorite words. On Tuesday, Boehner said he’s comfortable putting up to a million Americans out of work, on purpose, because as he put it, “We’re broke.” And yesterday, when doubling down on the same argument, Boehner said he doesn’t “want” to make unemployment much worse, but he feels like he has to. “Come on,” he said, “we’re broke.”
As a substantive matter, it’s possible John Boehner has suffered some kind of head trauma that prevents him from thinking clearly. His argument, in a nutshell, is that America’s economy and finances will be better off if only we take money out of the economy and deliberately throw hundreds of thousands of American workers from their jobs. This, in Boehner’s mind, will help make us less “broke.”
But there’s also a problem with the premise. Are we “broke”? No, it turns out Boehner’s wrong about this, too.
Dean Baker explained the other day, in reference to the Speaker’s talking point, “Of course this is not true. Investors are willing to lend the United States trillions of dollars at historically low interest rates. This means that the government is not broke. There is no evidence that it is coming up against any serious spending or borrowing limitation.”
It’s legitimate for public officials to want to debate the costs of incurring more debt down the road, as interest payments on very high levels of debt would begin to crowd out other spending, but we’re nowhere near that point. To simply say that we’re broke as a country is just flat out wrong.
But, it’s interesting to imagine how the Speaker would defend his statement. My guess is that he would point to the amount of debt we currently hold. He would still be wrong, of course, but this raises a question: is there something special about being in debt $14 trillion as opposed to being $6 trillion or $10 trillion in debt? Because those last two figures are the amount of debt we held at the beginning and end of the Bush administration, respectively.
Yet, at no point did I ever hear the current speaker utter one word between those years about our country being broke. That makes me wonder if Boehner and the GOP are just screaming about the nation being broke in order to scare the American people into going along with their proposals to drastically cut the federal budget and eviscerate entitlements like Medicare and Social Security.
So to review, Boehner wants to make unemployment worse on purpose because of a bogus statistic he made up, built on a bogus premise he made up, shaped by an economic theory — layoffs create jobs — that doesn’t make any sense.
I find it rather terrifying when someone so unprepared and so confused rises to such a powerful position.