The vote on the stimulus yesterday was unbelievable. After all of the meetings and concessions, not one Republican voted for the bill. That means that Republican leadership organized an all-hands, mandatory 'no' vote. My understanding of Congress is limited, but I'm pretty sure that sort of thing doesn't happen without a damn good reason, so I set about trying to suss out what the reason was. I read everything I could in the minutes and hours after the vote, and while what I came up with seems ridiculous, I thought I'd toss it out here and see what comes of it.
The Republicans are saying it was because they disagreed with the content of the bill. Their alternative was a bill loaded to the gills with corporate and high-income tax breaks. I do not have a PhD in economics but it seems to me that the Bush tax cuts (which are still in effect) basically sent us down that road already - and while I still have a job (at the moment), it seems like that didn't go so well.
Joe Biden says to never question someone's motivations, and while it is really tempting to do so, I will take Joe the VP's advice. There is an ideology to which I do not subscribe that says tax cuts are always good. I don't have a PhD in economics, but it seems like the folks who are hurting the most now may not be making enough to pay taxes. If that is right, cutting taxes would create more money at the top, which, the theory goes, will spur corporate growth and job creation. Another name for that is trickle-down economics aka, the approach that has resulted in excellent growth for the top income earners in America, and utter stagnation - in fact a decline in real wages - for everyone else. Thanks but no thanks, I'm ready for change.
Still, Ideologically, Republicans are not as lock-step as they get painted, so when they are unanimous on a vote, chances are, leadership was cracking the whip. So, regardless of the ideological convictions the Republican's may have, perhaps there is also a political angle. In the last five years, the Republicans have lost control of the House, the Senate and the Presidency. Now, the Senate is a consensus body and the minority can still be quite effective in negotiating legislation there. There is only one president, and at least until 2010, if not much longer, he is a Democrat. That leaves the House. As a majority rule body, it sucks to be in the minority there.
So lets pretend for a moment that House Republican's really want to find their way out of the minority. What would they do? First of all, cooperating would be disaster. If your cooperation leads to economic recovery, the American people will assume everything in Washington is working (for once) and will see no need to change who is in charge. If the economy is still in trouble despite your cooperation, then it was partially your fault and you can't make much of a case for the voters to put you back in charge. So that leaves not cooperating. As I was reading around, I see that David Sirota has also pondered this possible Republican strategy.
Don't cooperate. Try to amend the bill with tax cuts and get democrats to compromise on provisions that really piss off their base. Then, stick it to them and say whatever concessions they made weren't enough, all the while calling for a stimulus bill that "will work." Be careful not to go after their new President with an approval rating like Jesus, but hit the one your base equates with San Francisco Satan (or Bay area Beilzibub if you prefer).
So now if the economy continues to tank, you can say it was those money-wasting Democrats and make a case for the public to throw them out. And on the off-chance that it gets better before, say November of 2010, you can decry the federal deficit and run against the big government liberals, hoping that no one remembers the letter in the alphabet before the middle letter in word Texas.
OK, reality check: how much of this matches what happened yesterday?
Eric Cantor's comments explaining the Republican exodus to the 'no' column deserved Pee Wee Herman's favorite retort: 'I know you are, but what am I?' See for yourself:
"The onus is on Speaker Pelosi. She needs to meet with us. She needs to open her doors. We need to begin to work truly in a bipartisan fashion," he said. "We're trying to work with the White House. President Obama said he has no pride of authorship, so we want to go forward and make sure that we get a stimulus bill that works."
Approval ratings like Jesus: Good.
Liberal Lucifer: Bad. (Again, I don't have this on anyone's authority, but it seems like Democratic Leadership in the House would pretty much go with President Obama on this one, so blaming Speaker Pelosi for not coming to the table sorta feels like when they blamed her for 'partisan remarks' the last time we needed to pass a big expensive bill, vital to the future of America (I'm just sayin' . . .))
So, is this strategy what was going on yesterday? I hope not. Honestly.