Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Giving in to obstructionism

There's a pernicious idea going around that electing Mitt Romney would have a more stimulative effect on the economy than re-electing President Obama. Ezra Klein's column this week had a fairly sophisticated version of this argument. Klein considers what election outcome might be the most Keynesian, meaning that it will produce the largest government deficits (deficits here being considered a good thing, because they stimulate the economy, whereas a balanced budget in our fragile economy would crash the economy). The theory is that electing Romney would break gridlock in Congress, and allow the continuation of the Bush tax cuts, and other possible stimulus measures, and that if the Republicans are in charge, they will not be dumb enough to tighten things up enough to cause another recession. On the other hand, if Obama is re-elected with the same divided Congress, there is a danger that Congress will allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, will not renew the payroll tax holiday, and will allow automatic spending cuts to kick in, because they might not be able to give up their obstructionist ways. 

President Obama argues that this will not happen, because if he is re-elected, Republicans in Congress will realize they have to work with him, and a reasonable compromise will emerge. But even if there is a possibility that Republicans will continue to obstruct and delay, to the point where they threaten to shut down the government or force enough austerity measures to take hold that the economy will slow down, is that a reason to consider allowing the Republicans to take charge of all three branches of government . . . again?

I say that kind of thinking must be stopped in its tracks. It amounts to letting the terrorists win. It amounts to giving in to the schoolyard crybaby who says that we have to play by his rules or he is going to take his ball and bat and go home. It amounts to rewarding the Republicans for the strategy of refusing to accept responsibility for government unless they get to have everything their own way.

We have had this problem in California also, where Republicans who constitute a minority in the Legislature,  have for the most part prevented the government from raising taxes to balance its budget, and have forced spending cuts that the majority of the legislature doesn't want. We tried solving that problem by installing a Republican governor, and it didn't help. Now we have a Democratic governor, and he seems to have a better chance at forcing a compromise, if the people support it.

Let's try to keep in mind that years of Republicans controlling the federal government wasn't particularly good for balancing the budget (even in years when no Keynesian stimulus was called for), and wasn't particularly good for the economy either. The idea that electing a Republican president would be better for the economy is an elusive hope that we have fallen for too many times before. It's not time to try that kind of recklessness again.

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