Ideological Inanity The Republican Economic Debate

Robert Borosage

The Republican debate on the economy was staged in New Hampshire, but quickly descended into a netherworld of Republican ideological cant.

Each candidate brought the idiosyncratic traits we’re learning to expect. Gingrich blustered about throwing Chris Dodd and Barney Frank into jail. Herman Cain touted Alan Greenspan – yes Alan Greenspan – as a great Fed Chair. That roused Ron Paul to come to the defense of the gold standard. Michelle Bachmann reminded us of all those children and her voice in the wilderness, where, as far as we can tell, she permanently resides. Rick Perry was AWOL most of the night, but aptly summarized the evening saying: “We don’t need to focus on this policy or that policy. We need to get America working again.”

And for all these Republicans it isn’t about this policy or that policy; it is about faith. All read from the same gospel, differing only in how literally they take the text. These debates have turned into Mitt Romney and not ready for prime time players, so let’s focus on what Romney says he believes.

Romney would do the following to get the economy going.

He’s against the American Jobs Act. He says the original stimulus failed, so apparently rules out increasing spending or decreasing taxes to get the economy going. He even suggested he was against extending the payroll tax cut. Thus he would embrace a government cutback that would cut about 2% of GDP next year – almost unavoidably driving the economy into a recession.

Instead, he calls for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. He’d cut corporate taxes and not raise individual taxes. He would not cut defense spending. So apparently, he’d balance the budget by savaging Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and domestic spending on everything from education to energy. The last effort to do this was the Republican House budget that dismantled Medicare to protect tax breaks for the wealthy.

Romney would repeal health care reform – but doesn’t say how he would make up for the trillion dollars in savings that are projected to come from the reform.

Romney would repeal Dodd-Frank and free Wall Street to go back to the unregulated excesses the drove the economy of the cliff.

He’d give multinationals a massive tax break, allowing them to repatriate over $1 trillion in off shore profits at a nominal tax rate. Apparently, the trillions that companies are sitting on, waiting for customers, are not sufficient.

He supports the bailout of Wall Street, but opposes the rescue plan that saved General Motors and Chrysler. He doesn’t explain why he prefers a failed plan but not a successful one.

Romney is by far the most rational of the Republican field. But his agenda is nonsense. Austerity for an economy verging on another downturn. Tax breaks for corporations swimming in money already. Deregulation for Wall Street whose excesses blew up the economy. Defense of a military budget about as large as the rest of the world’s military spending combined. Sending the bill for Wall Street’s mess to the most vulnerable, with deep cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education and more. The only thing that makes some sense is his pledge to cite the Chinese as currency violators in his first day in office. This gets him trashed for triggering a trade war in the debates but is likely to win him votes in the industrial midwest.

Most striking in the debate was that there was no mention of the policies that drove us into the mess we are in. What caused the collapse? It wasn’t Wall Street’s wilding; it was government, of course. It wasn’t the wealthy few and entrenched lobbies that rig the rules; it was the powerful poverty lobby that forced cowering banks to lend money to the impovident through the infamous “CRA,” Community Reinvestment Act. You have to imbibe gallons of kool ade to believe this stuff.

At one point, the candidates were asked about inequality – for thirty years, the incomes of the wealthiest one percent have soared while poverty has spread to record numbers. What caused this? Obama, of course, and his job killing plans. Hasn’t he been president for decades?

In fact, the sainted Ronald Reagan set us on this course. We have had thirty years of conservative domination of our politics: deregulation, top end tax cuts, corporate trade policies, Wall Street deregulation, the assault on labor, CEO plunder.

And not only is there no apology for the failure, there is no recognition of it. These candidates uniformly tout the same policies that got us into the mess we are in.

Like Herman Cain, it makes me miss Alan Greenspan, who at least had the momentary grace to admit that there was a “flaw” in his worldview.

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