With yesterday’s announcement from the Congressional Budget Office that the fiscal year 2009 federal budget deficit is projected to be $1.2 trillion dollars, Republicans in the House and Senate should realize that the time has come for them to pull their support for any economic stimulus package proposed by the incoming Obama Administration. The CBO’s budget numbers don’t include the as yet unseen stimulus bill, which is rumored to carry a price tag of anywhere between $600 billion and $1.2 trillion on its own. By this time next year, the government could be carrying a balance sheet that is as much as $2.5 trillion in the red. As the once and future party of fiscal responsibility, Republicans should not want to be anywhere near those numbers.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner were making conciliatory noises on Monday after President-elect Obama went to Capitol Hill to lobby for his stimulus bill. Obama said that the deal would include $300 billion in “tax cuts” with which he hoped to buy Republican support. McConnell and Boehner expressed pleasant surprise at the alleged size of the tax relief in the plan – alleged because some of the tax relief is slated to go to people who don’t pay federal income taxes in the first place – and hinted that they could support a stimulus bill this focused on reducing taxes.
But more than their support for passage, which he does not need, Obama was attempting to buy political cover from Republicans, which he wants. Obama wants to insulate hmself from blame when the post election afterglow fades away, his stimulus plan inevitably fails, and the American people get stuck with the bills. McConnell and Boehner doubtlessly know this; but they lack the political courage to stand athwart the new Administration and yell “Stop!” If they want to rebuild the Republican Party’s image as the party of fiscal restraint, however, that is exactly what they must do.
Right now, Republicans generally are operating on the theory that they must appear to be working with President Obama to avoid the wrath of the voters, who elected Obama to change Washington. The hope is that in being nice to Obama, Republicans will share in some of the credit for his initiatives, and win back the trust of the voters. The problem is that Republicans have played this game before, and it never ends up the way they hope. Americans don’t want a Democratic Party and a watered down Democratic Party, which is what Republicans who counsel going along to get along would have the party become. Americans want choices, and conservatives want a Republican Party that stands on principle. That is why Republicans should walk away from the proposed economic stimulus completely.
If they do, they will catch criticism in the short term for their lack of “caring” and their “obstructionism.” But the fact is that the Democrats don’t need a single Republican vote to pass the stimulus. So let them do it on their own. The Senate should not filibuster, but not one Republican should vote for the deal. Only in this way will Republicans be properly positioned when the stimulus fails. Of course, the risk is that the stimulus will not fail, and Republicans will not have had a hand in crafting it. But that is not really much of a risk at all. As the minority party, Republicans will not receive any credit for a successful turnaround in the economy. If they go along with Obama’s plans, Republicans will not be able to criticize Democrats if the stimulus fails. That is a risk that Republicans simply cannot take if they wish to get back in the majority anytime soon. No amount of temporary tax cuts Democrats may offer is worth mortgaging the Republican Party’s future.
Since Republicans cannot lead on the stimulus, they should not follow. It’s time to get out of the way. Let Obama and the Democrats be responsible for the results of the massive increases in government spending their plan envisions; and don’t sell out principles just to stand in Obama’s aura.