Dazed and Confused - Coming to Terms with the Economic Incoherence of the Modern GOP

The last few weeks we've seen something NDN/NPI has wanted for a long time now - a real debate about our economy has broken out. 

Like many I have been frustrated as the very same Republicans who oversaw some of the most disasterous economic policies in American history attacked the President for not getting America out of the troubles they created fast enough.  A couple of weeks ago we decided to do something about it, and committed to take the opposition party's rather thin economic proposals at face value, take a deep look at them, and helped make sure others did too.

What we have all discovered during this period of learning more about the current Republican leadership's plans for our economy has not been reassuring.  Several weeks ago the Speaker-In-Waiting Rep. John Boehner proposed an economic plan which would explode the deficit, make no effort to curtain spending, role back the recently based health care reform bill and essentially do nothing about the structural challenges the American economy faces.  Yesterday Senator Minority Leader McConnell introduced a bill which, at first glance (we hope to have an analysis out later today) actually explodes the deficit even beyond what Boehner had proposed a few weeks earlier.  Later this week we get a new book from the GOP's "Young Guns," which if it tracks the Ryan budget proposal from earlier this year, also increases the deficit in the short term and gets around to balancing it in the 2nd half of this young century. 

Paul Ryan gave us a rather ugly preview of the new book yesterday.  In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal he argued that the President's economic policies are a road to "serfdom" for the American people.   And of course we've seen Rep. Boehner, smartly, offering to cut a deal with Democrats on a fall economic plan, acknowledging that the American economy needs more not less help right now.  His reward for his constructive overtures? Immediate repudiation from the rest of the GOP Congressional leadership, exposing a political fissure in their ranks that is going to be very difficult to mend in the months ahead.

The through line to all this recent GOP economic activity is a powerful, and I would argue, dangerous, incoherence.  Nutty and ideological Republican policies in the past decade brought us near to economic ruin.  Wages and incomes dropped for the typical family, unpaid for tax cuts created huge structural deficits the nation will be struggling to close for decades to come, global advocacy for economic liberalization waned, an unaddressed housing bubble became a full fledged global financial meltdown, the auto industry collapsed and we entered the worst American recession since the Great Depression.  Our immigration and health care systems went unreformed, nothing was done to limit our dependence on fossil fuels largely held by nefarious global actors, and amazingly, the unsustainable fiscal condition of our entitlement programs was actually made much much worse by this party of fiscal constraint.

Polls show that even today, two years after President Obama was elected, the American people understand that it was the Republican Party which created the economic mess we have today. 

Nothing coming out of the mouths, books or websites of the new GOP Congressional leadership indicates a rethink of the economic philosophy and policies which did so much harm to the US and its people over the past decade.  But what is most gauling and upsetting to me is how much the core promise they are making to the American people - a bold commitment to fiscal austerity and deficit reduction - is itself a big lie.  In all of the speeches and statements these deficit hawks warn of the danger our debt, and yet, not one Republican running for federal office anywhere in America today can produce a plan to reduce the deficit by even a single penny over the next ten years.   There is nothing serious or real about their commitment to reducing the deficit.  What has become crystal clear in this GOP economic coming out party of the last few weeks is that the only thing they are really serious about is cutting taxes and reducing the income of the federal government, while continuing the Bush era strategy of simultaneously allowing federal spending to go unchecked. We tried this strategy in the last decade, and predictably, it didn't turn out very well. 

Even if the Republicans are returned to a degree of power next they have painted themselves into a politically unsustainable ideological box.  There are only four real ways to execute on their most treasured promise of reducing the deficit - increase revenue through economic recovery, increase revenue through new taxes or increasing current taxes, cut defense spending, or cut entitlement spending.  Everyone's favorite target - discretionary domestic spending - has already been frozen by future Obama budgets, and just doesnt have enough money in it to amount to a great deal of savings over time.  The Republicans are unlikely to cut defense or raise new tax revenue, and the recovery is uncertain.  So what is left to focus on is entitlement programs, and specifically Medicare.  But will the Republican Party, now the party of old people in America, really be the one to tackle entitlement reform in the years ahead?  Imagine those town halls next summer when GOPers are going to their own base voters with huge reductions in long promised federal benefits.

Hard to really see how given the current ideological rigidity of the GOP, a condition which if anything will get worse next year as the new Tea Party radicals come to Washington and the GOP Presidential primary contest becomes an unpleasant race to the bottom and radical right, they can actually act upon the deficit then if they come to power.   Which means in plain simple language the modern GOP has no real economic plan for the nation at a time of economic peril, something which has become clear and evident by their incoherent forays into fiscal policy this week.

America deserves better.  We are in a time of great national challenge, brought about to a great degree by eight years of some of the worst government America has ever had.  The ideological recklessness of the modern American right should not just be an issue of debate, but needs to become understood as the central cause of what has gone wrong in America in recent years. As I listen to the Boehner, McConnell and perhaps worst of all Paul Ryan's cynical lies, their  blindness to the true and serious economic challenges we face, their ideological and discredited bromides I get angry, energized, spirited.  It is not the Republicans the nation must not return to power this fall, but their wild, radical arguments which will bring further national decline and economic ruin if inacted. 

The good news is that we are finally having this debate now, so long overdue.  The question you have to ask yourself is what role you are going to play in the next two months in ensuring that responsible parties win this critical debate about our future, and once and for all put this current era of radical right politics into the dustbin of history where it belongs.

Update - Mike Hais and Morley Winograd have an interesting take on this debate too.

Update 1030am - The right's piling on Boehner continues.  WSJ editorial page today wonders outloud whether Rep. Boehner is "ready for primetime."