Today President Obama will sign the historic recovery bill–pumping $787 Billion into the economy in an effort to create 3.5 million jobs. With unemployment spreading, home foreclosures rising, poverty spreading, it will come none too soon.
Meanwhile Republicans in the Congress are declaring that they are "back." They believe that by spurning Obama's invitation for bipartisan cooperation, and refusing to support the bill, they've recovered their identity.
What would they do? They claimed that the bill was too big, and that it had too few tax cuts for upper income Americans. Their Senate leader supported a plan introduced by Senator DeMint that was half the size of Obama's plan, all tax cuts, and featured making the Bush tax cuts permanent two years from now.
And they railed at the government spending. "It's not a stimulus bill. It's a spending bill," said Senator John McCain, apparently unaware that the whole idea of a stimulus is to spend money to put people to work. "In the history of mankind," no "federal, state or local" government has ever "created one job," claimed newly anointed Republican Party leader Michael Steele, who apparently has never served in the military.
In the end, the recovery plan passed with not one Republican vote in the House and only three in the Senate. And those votes had to be won by making the plan smaller–cutting some of the vital relief to states and localities to limit layoffs of police and teachers–and adding more tax cuts, including the fix of the Alternative Minimum Tax which every sensible economist warned would provide far fewer jobs for the dollar than direct spending.
But Republicans celebrated their defeat because they believe they've put a marker down for the future. After celebrating George Bush who doubled the national debt with irresponsible top end tax cuts, a costly and unfunded war abroad, no-bid contracts and wasteful spending at home, Republicans have decided suddenly to become the party of small government and balanced budgets again.
Problem is that this position doesn't make sense at the moment the country faces the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. And it won't make sense in the future either.
The fact is that this country has basic needs that must be attended to long term. We need to build a public social contract–starting with affordable health care for all–to replace the private promises now shredded by the corporations. We need to invest in the world class education system–from pre-Kindergarten to affordable college–if we want to be a high wage society in a global economy. We need to build a 21st century infrastructure–from mass transit to fast broadband, new water systems and electronic grids–if we want an efficient economy for business to thrive.
All that costs money. All have been starved over the last decades when conservatives argued that tax cuts for the wealthy would create a more prosperous society than critical public investment. Now that the wizards of Wall Street have gambled away some $8 trillion betting that housing prices would never fall, we've learned that private speculation can waste a lot more money than government does.
It's going to take more than this one bill to get the economy going. The administration now must deal with the housing crisis, and with reorganizing the banking sector. And it will most likely have to come back for another stimulus bill next year, for this one is probably too small to lift us out of the hole we are in.
Once the economy does recover, we'll face a fundamental debate about the next economy. We can't go back to the old version that was built on bubbles and speculation and blew up in our faces. We've got to lay the basis of long term growth and shared prosperity. And that will require a broader and sustained public commitment, with progressive taxes to pay for it.
Republicans have not caught up with this reality. They keep selling the same old song — scorn for government and hosannas for lower taxes. Worse, they've imposed a herd mentality on their leaders so none dare stray far enough to think on their own. Republicans have put down a marker all right. One that shows they remain oblivious to the crisis we face and the long term choices we must make.