While reading through the Republican's 48-page "A Pledge to America" yesterday, I found myself recalling a wisecrack from the pen of Dorothy Parker, the fabled "Mouth that Roared." For in her review of Benito Mussolini's 1910 novel, The Cardinal's Mistress, (Yes, Mussolini did write a cheesy novel!) Miss Parker quipped: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force!" These 17 words pretty much sum up my response to that which Boehner, Cantor and the gang unveiled before the press at the Tart Lumber Yard near Dulles International Airport. Besides casting themselves as the reincarnation of the Founding Fathers, offering such banalities as "Support the Troops! Fight the terrorists!" "Create jobs, end economic uncertainty and make America more competitive!" and promising to "cut taxes and spending," "downsize government," "cut out fraud, waste and abuse," "get rid of the Obama health care plan" and "shore up America's missile defense," the putative Speaker-in-Waiting and his minions offered nothing new, nothing compelling, nothing even remotely useful.
Truth to tell, despite what most polls tell us about the upcoming midterm elections, the Republicans are still threading a needle between the Scylla of their more moderate, rational acolytes (about a half dozen of 'em) and the Charybdis of all those Tea Partyers demanding a return to the unregulated 1920s. To have put anything more concrete, more challenging or definitive into their "Pledge" would likely have drawn the ire of one side or the other. But if, as some say, you can measure the relative success of a proposal by the number of people who hate it, then Boehner & Company are already succeeding beyond their wildest expectations. For shortly after their press conference (in which all the representatives shed their suit coats and ties in an effort to look like 'one of the guys') a coalition of conservative groups announced they had allied to push for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget -- a policy left out of the pledge. Then too, a host of Tea Party activists expressed their frustration and disappointment over a lack of specifics. "The first time you read it, it's like 'Yeah, this is all right,'" said Andrew Ian Dodge, a coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots in Maine. "Every time you read it, it gets less satisfying. It's full of platitudes . . . . There are all these words that tea party people like, but there's nothing concrete in it."
It has long been axiomatic among Republicans and other fiscal hawks that cutting taxes during a recession is the one sure-fire method of curing what ails the economy. Hells bells, according to Republicans and other fiscal hawks, cutting taxes is a sure fire cure for mumps, measles, Dengue fever and the Yaws! As we have recounted in previous articles, according to this theory, when taxes are cut -- and especially for the wealthy -- more money is freed up to expand business and thus create jobs. Of this, fiscal hawks and Supply Side enthusiasts are absolutely, positively certain. And yet, there is a ton of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Consider the fact that during the eight years Ronald Reagan was president there was a horrible recession in progress. So what did he do? He enacted what at the time was the largest tax increase in American history -- $100 billion. And what did he have to show for it? The creation of approximately 17 million new jobs.
Likewise during Bill Clinton's eight presidential years, he went Reagan one better and enacted an even larger tax increase. The result? The creation of an additional 23 million new jobs. In other words, during their sixteen years in office, Reagan and Clinton both faced stiff recessions. Both raised taxes against the wishes and perceived wisdom of all the fiscal conservatives. And between them, they created better than 40 million new jobs. (That works out to 2.5 million new jobs a year for 16 years.) Compare and contrast this to the eight years of George W. Bush, who instituted the single-largest tax cut in American history. During his eight years, he created just a shade over 3 million new jobs -- about 375,000 a year for eight years.
Then too, Boehner & Company's "Pledge to America" promises to "restore fiscal sanity" by cutting the federal deficit -- a noble idea to be certain. However, making all the Bush tax cuts permanent would have the precisely opposite effect; it would add an estimated $4 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade. When asked how the Republicans could square their plan to cut the deficit with making all the tax cuts permanent, Speaker-in-Waiting Boehner talked up cutting the federal budget; focusing on that old bugbear, "discretionary spending," which, Boehner promised, Republicans would cut by "at least $100 billion in the first year alone." For all those who truly believe this, put your money on the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Seattle Mariners for the 2011 baseball season. In all honesty, sucking $100 billion out of discretionary programs would, in the words of the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, "require draconian cuts in programs, such as education grants, that both red states and blue states have come to depend on."
"But," the Republicans argue, "if we make all the tax cuts permanent, it will result in a net reduction of the federal deficit; it will pay for itself." Just like all those oil revenues would pay for the war in Iraq . . .
In their "pledge," the Republicans also promote a hiring freeze for federal employees -- "exempting the defense and security sectors." This makes about as much sense as raking leaves in the midst of a windstorm. Since the private sector is currently creating no more than, say, 85,000 jobs a month, a public-sector job freeze would only ensure that unemployment remains higher than it otherwise would have been. Unbelievably, the "pledge" also proposes embargoing any funds from last year's stimulus bill that have not already been spent -- money that is meant to keep construction workers, teachers, firefighters and others on the job.
Let's face facts: if Americans who might have been hired by the federal government or paid with stimulus funds are out of work, they won't have any money to spend on goods and services -- and businesses, facing lower demand for their goods and services, won't hire workers or invest in new facilities. And that would only deepen the recession.
This doesn't even get into the Republican's proposal to "fully fund missile defense" against the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that Iran and North Korea may or may not one day come to possess. What the Republicans are proposing here is a program that will cost a minimum of $1 trillion; just try adding that to a dangerously out-of-whack federal budget.
I urge you to read their "Pledge to America" for yourself. It just might put in mind yet another one of Dorothy Parker's great barbs:
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks!"
©2010 Kurt F. Stone