Republicans smell an election opportunity -- but only if they can keep the economy down, jobs down and wages down. Most recently to keep people and the economy miserable, they filibustered long-term unemployment assistance, and are working to cut back from the meager 26 weeks of assistance the states offer.
The New York Times explains in "States Cutting Weeks of Aid to the Jobless," "[L]ast July, North Carolina sharply cut its unemployment program, reducing the maximum number of weeks of benefits to 20 from 73 and reducing the maximum weekly benefit as well."
When North Carolina did this, a huge number of people just gave up looking for work and disappeared from the workforce. This made it look like the unemployment rate went down because only people who are actively looking are counted in the statistics. But what actually occurred was an increased need for food stamps and other aid. This, of course, doesn't save the government money because, instead of paying unemployment, they are paying for this assistance.
As Republicans explain it, their idea is that people getting unemployment assistance are too "comfortable." So the have to force these lazy, comfortable people into conditions that are so bad they will take any nasty, low-wage, humiliating, dangerous job. Of course, this means they will work for even less than the people who are already in such jobs. Meanwhile, the reality is that there is only one job for every three people looking for work.
Here is the thing: Obviously cutting this assistance drags down the surrounding economy as even more people can't pay their mortgage or rent or buy shoes, gas, clothes of even enough food. So local stores have to cut back, causing even more unemployment. Billions are taken out of the economy, things get worse... And now more "red" states are working on doing the same thing.
The Bet Is That the Public Will Blame Democrats
Republicans are betting that voters will blame the "party in power," which means the party of the president. Our corporate media is complicit in this strategy. If Americans found out that it is Republican filibusters in the Senate and obstruction in the House that keeps bills from even getting a vote that is holding back the economy, they would know who to blame. The media work to keep that a secret.
For example, from the New York Times story cited above: "A federal program supplying extra weeks of benefits to the long-term unemployed expired at the end of 2013, and congressional Democrats failed in an effort to revive it."
Right, it was Democrats who "failed to revive it." This surely tells voters to hold Democrats responsible for the cutoff of long-term unemployment assistance. With media reports like this, Republicans will win their bet.
While Republicans are doing everything they can to hold back economic recovery, the right's propaganda machine is blasting out that the economy is terrible. For example, one of the headlines at Drudge this week, "Wall Street Advisor: Actual Unemployment is 37.2%...," was right there next to the usual drumbeat, "Record 20% of Households on Food Stamps..."
The strategy is paying off. This from The Hill: "Boehner touts poll finding more blame Obama for economy than Bush":
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday used a private meeting with House Republicans to tout polling that suggests that voters now blame President Obama more than former President George W. Bush for the state of the economy.
. . . Republicans, he argued, now have the upper hand when it comes to the economy.
. . . After Obama's 2012 reelection, according to Winston's polling, 53 percent of voters said "policies of the past" were causing the nation's economic problems, while 44 percent blamed policies "of the present." Polling in November 2013 found those numbers largely reversed; 41 percent blame the policies of the past, while 49 percent blame current policies.
Other Sabotage Examples
Related to this is the ongoing Republican effort to sabotage Obamacare. This Wednesday TPM had this: "Republicans Seek To Sabotage Obamacare With Higher Premiums":
Conservative wonks and Republican lawmakers are coalescing around a new strategy to sabotage Obamacare by repealing a temporary piece of the law designed to hold down premiums in the event of major market disruptions.
. . . The conservatives are open about the end goal: collapse Obamacare by causing higher premiums on the law's marketplaces for the newly insured, which progressive experts who support Obamacare agree would occur if the provision is scrapped.
But wait, there's more. The Guardian reported last month that "State conservative groups plan U.S.-wide assault on education, health and tax."
Conservative groups across the US are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and the environment, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.
The strategy for the state-level organisations, which describe themselves as "free-market thinktanks", includes proposals from six different states for cuts in public sector pensions, campaigns to reduce the wages of government workers and eliminate income taxes, school voucher schemes to counter public education, opposition to Medicaid, and a campaign against regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Here's the strategy: Sabotage things, wait as corporate media doesn't inform the public who is filibustering and obstructing, let conservative propaganda outlets tell the public to blame Democrats for the terrible suffering and economic catastrophe that result. Over time people really don't have much choice except to blame the people who the radio and TV and FOX News and all the other outlets tell them to blame: Obama and the Democrats.
The sabotage strategy is starting to become apparent. Brian Beutler at Salon recently wrote this article, "GOP's ulterior motive on unemployment: Economic sabotage?": "Unemployment benefits make people's lives better and buoy a fragile, but possibly accelerating recovery. Some Republicans are apparently reluctant to give the economy, and by extension the Democrats, a shot in the arm right now."
A while back I posted this at Crooks and Liars, "It's Economic Sabotage As GOP Obstructs Infrastructure Work" and C&L published this video at the top:
Five Years of Republican Economic Sabotage Explained in Three Minutes
Rev. Al Sharpton had this on the air:
Here is the Economic Policy Institute, a year ago, in "The congressional GOP has smothered a more rapid economic recovery":
If this ideologically driven objective of deeply cutting spending is met, this will represent just one more way that the GOP Congress has managed to delay full recovery from the Great Recession. The evidence continues to pile up that these spending cuts, forced on a still-depressed economy, can easily throw the nation back into an outright recession and prolong the nation's economic misery.
Is this an overly harsh read on the motivations of GOP members of Congress? Not at all. Motivations aside--regardless of whether they deeply believe that their ideological goal of reducing government spending will help the economy or whether they think that a slowed economy will simply help their own electoral prospects--the facts are simply that congressional Republicans have consistently hamstrung efforts that a large consensus of economists agree would have provided crucial help in lowering American unemployment.
[. . .] Conclusion
Concern that the GOP Members of Congress have a vested interest in slowing economic recovery has been brewing for quite some time. Speaking at Cuyahoga Community College ahead of the election, former President Bill Clinton accused congressional Republicans of deliberately trying to keep the unemployment rate elevated for political gain.
Here is Talking Points Memo from June 2012, "Harry Reid Accuses Eric Cantor Of Economic Sabotage":
It's a theory that progressives have grown sympathetic to as Republicans make it ever-more difficult for President Obama to govern and thwart initiatives in Congress to stimulate the economy. Democratic operatives have loosely floated the claim in broad ways by suggesting the GOP is hoping for economic failure, but Reid's pointed accusation took it to a new level.
But these are not the outlets that reach the broad majority of Americans. Will the Republican strategy of economic sabotage win them the House, Senate and maybe even the presidency? If it does succeed, what does this mean for the future of our economy and our country?
-----This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary
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