Uncertainty

Last week, after a pretty encouraging monthly jobs report, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had to figure out a way to complain about good news. He relied on an old stand-by.

“Our economy continues to suffer from the uncertainty being caused for private-sector job creators by the Democrats who run Washington,” he said. In the same press release, though, Boehner added, “Congressional Republicans have made clear there will be no debt limit increase unless it is accompanied by significant spending cuts and reforms.”

The irony was lost on the Speaker. In one paragraph, he decried “uncertainty” and said it’s holding back the economy. In another paragraph, Boehner boasted of his party’s intention to create more uncertainty, on purpose.

Last night, the Speaker was at it again. See if you can spot the subtlety of the rhetoric in Boehner’s address to the Economic Club of New York.

“The effect of adding nearly a trillion dollars to our national debt — money borrowed mostly from foreign investors — caused a further erosion of economic confidence in America, and increased uncertainty for millions of private-sector job creators. […]

“Instead what Washington has done is raise the specter of higher taxes, creating more uncertainty for those in America who create jobs. […]

“If we fail to use this as a moment to demonstrate that we’re getting serious about fixing the debt, the result will be fewer jobs, less confidence, and more uncertainty.[…]

“The mere threat of tax hikes causes uncertainty for job creators — uncertainty that results in less risk-taking and fewer jobs.”

I especially like that last one. Boehner thinks even talking about tax increases is bad for the economy. He didn’t appear to be kidding.

As a matter of public policy, the Republican obsession with “uncertainty” has always been a transparent sham. The economy has struggled through the Great Recession for a variety of reasons, but the evidence that Democratic policies are responsible for generating recovery-stunting uncertainty is imaginary.

But what’s truly fascinating here is the disconnect between Boehner’s ostensible beliefs and Boehner’s threats. The Speaker and his caucus have insisted, ad nauseum, that they’re prepared to deliberately destroy the American economy by blocking a debt-ceiling increase. Indeed, he did so again last night. So far, investors and global markets don’t really believe them — why would American officials screw over their own country on purpose? — but GOP officials keep saying it anyway.

If uncertainty is so scary, and policymakers must do all that they can to stomp out uncertainty wherever it exists, the Republican strategy borders on mental illness. The House Speaker is creating uncertainty while decrying uncertainty, and makes no effort to even acknowledge the cognitive dissonance.