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12/30/2008
THE GOP BAILOUT CONUNDRUM

Is it smart politics to vote against what will be a wildly popular economic bailout package that may approach a trillion dollars? Further, is it really necessary in order to “save” the economy?

Politicians are always torn between doing what they know is right and what they know is politically safe. Many times, there is a happy convergence between the two schools of thought and the politician comes out a winner. For Republicans, this happens whenever tax cuts are up for a vote or votes on issues like welfare reform or military spending.

But what happens when an issue like the bailout package comes before you - a bill that most GOP conservatives worth their salt know deep down in their gut is the wrong approach to getting the economy out of a recession and will push the federal deficit toward the magic number of a trillion dollars?

To liberals like Paul Krugman (and probably some Republicans), the deficit doesn’t matter:

It’s politically fashionable to rant against government spending and demand fiscal responsibility. But right now, increased government spending is just what the doctor ordered, and concerns about the budget deficit should be put on hold.

Krugman may be half right. Government spending increases during a recession are inevitable and the fall off in revenue due to reduced business activity as well as the increase in the numbers of citizens forced on to the public dole as a result of job loss means a rise in the federal deficit. This much is unavoidable and repeating Herbert Hoover’s mistake in trying to hold the line on spending by increasing taxes is a non-starter. Even Obama knows that much in that he has put his tax increase plans on hold for a couple of years - much to the chagrin of his class warrior base.

But a trillion dollars? And beyond that incomprehensible number is the political fallout that would occur if the GOP were to fight against the stimulus package in the first place.

Such a move might please the Republican base which makes up about 30% of the electorate. But the last I checked it takes more than 50% to be successful in elections. And if the GOP wants to make inroads against the Democrats in the House and Senate, they are going to need considerably more than 50% of the electorate to vote for them in order to climb out of the huge hole they have dug for themselves.

So the smart political move would be to go with the flow and vote for Obama’s giveaway, right? Not so fast, says Nate Silver who lays out the political choices for GOP lawmakers quite nicely:

1) Try to pressure Obama into some kind of compromise, and vote for that compromise;
2) Let the stimulus pass as the Democrats choose to construct it, over your strong objection;
3) Yield to Obama, and vote for the stimulus in the name of national unity.

The third choice probably isn’t very appealing to you. It might be appealing to Newt Gingrich, who is telling you that you don’t have the credibility right now to pick a fight. Better off rebuidling and rebranding the party for the long term. But rebuilding and rebranding means someone other than you is in charge — someone, for example, like Newt Gingirch. So that option is out.

So let’s think through the other couple of choices. First thing first: if the economy improves substantially by the midterm elections, you’re screwed. It won’t matter whether you voted for the stimulus or voted against it, and it won’t matter whether you achieved some kind of compromise or you didn’t. If, by the summer of 2010, GDP growth has miraculously recovered to 4% per year, that’s all the public is going to think about. Obama Save Economy!! Me Vote Democrat!! They aren’t going to care about whether you snuck some sort of capital gains tax cut in there.

But let’s say that the economy still sucks in 2010 — which, frankly, is a pretty good bet. That’s going to work much, much better for you if you’ve voted against the stimulus. Not only can you pin the blame on the donkeys, but you can campaign on tax cutting and fiscal responsibility — the stimulus will “prove”, once and for all, the wisdom of conservative economic principles. And then think about this: the Democrats are going to be trying to spend $800 billion in taxpayer dollars as quickly as they can possibly get away with it. Somewhere along the way, they’re going to wind up funding a Woodstock Museum or a Bridge to Nowhere. Somewhere along the way, an enterprising contractor is going to embezzle a bunch of stimulus money, or cook up some kind of pay-to-play scheme. Maybe if you’re really lucky, this will happen in your Distrct. Better to keep the whole thing at arm’s-length and make sure that Democrats get the blame for that.

The Hobson’s Choice facing Republicans is fighting against a popular president and his very popular giveaway plan in which case if the economy improves by 2010 (more on this later), the GOP is toast or accepting the rationale of the Obama White House and voting in favor of the package in the name of national unity as a result of an “emergency” in which case you will get absolutely no credit from the American people and your base will desert you. The third choice is equally unpalatable; try to inject some sanity in the giveaway by dint of minor amendments, warn of catastrophe, and then vote for it anyway.

In other words, if you stand up for your beliefs and fight the bailout (a certain losing proposition at this point given the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate), your only hope is if the plan doesn’t work and the economy is still in the tank by 2010-12. But if you follow your political instincts and vote in favor of the plan - even if you are able to get Obama to modify some of the parameters - the American people will still see the package as a Democratic triumph. You only consolation by taking door #3 is that the GOP base won’t desert you entirely - probably.

More to the point, can an honorable politician of any ideology or party deny the president what he deems necessary to help people in what his advisors and many experts are telling him is an extremely serious economic crisis? And what does it say about the GOP as a party whose only real hope for gains in 2010 is if the president’s plan doesn’t work and millions suffer the consequences?

Or will they? We are in a serious recession, the depth of which is unknowable at the moment. A Republican Administration has already pumped trillions into the financial sector (without much effect on credit markets and all to the detriment of a free market economy). Few are asking would we have been better off - or just as badly off - if Bush and his gorgon Paulson (and bailout enabler Fed Chair Bernanke) had simply tweaked the system rather than drowning it in money. If the Bushies had allowed several larger Wall Street banks to go under or facilitated some mergers while letting others go down the drain, how much worse off would we be?

Stock market lower? Perhaps. Credit tighter? Hard to see how that would be possible. More job losses? Again, we’re bleeding half a million jobs a month so it would be difficult to imagine that pace getting much worse.

Then there’s all that worthless paper - mortgage backed securities, credit derivatives, and loans that have been foreclosed. There are trillions of dollars of this worthless toilet paper sitting in banks around the world - had been sitting there for months as the housing bubble burst and began to drag the economy toward recession. What changed that caused this bailout mania?

Panic took hold. The Panic of 2008 will be remembered for the scramble to inject “liquidity” into the financial sector so that the business of American business could continue. Gigantic corporations asked the government to sheild them from the results of their poor business decisions and the ebb and flow of the free market by claiming to be “too big to fail” and the government obliged them by throwing trillions of dollars in their direction. No one knows where this money went. No one knows how it was spent. We are told that by saving these companies, we avoided a “meltdown.” If it not be heresy, might I inquire as to just what proponents of these bailouts think we are experiencing now if not a “meltdown?”

In effect, we just spent $7 trillion or so (most of that printed up by the Fed and pumped into the “system” in ways that are so arcane, not even the deacons of high finance can explain it adequately) just to avoid what we are, in fact, going through right now. We don’t know how much worse it would have been without this massive bailout. Such prognostication is impossible. Indeed, even asking the question “How much bang did we get for those $7 trillion bucks?” will bring down criticism for even daring to think that perhaps - just perhaps - much of this massive giveaway was - dare I say it - unnecessary?

But with the GOP’s credibility at close to absolute zero, no one in the Republican party seems willing to make the case that before we pump another trillion dollars into the economy in free money, it might be a good idea to pause and reflect on exactly what we are doing. Forget the deficit for the moment. How is this bailout mania - the result of a feeding frenzy due to the smell of unearned cash available to those who whine the loudest and have the best lobbyists - affecting the ability of the free market to function?

For all the ignorant words written in opposition to the free market in recent months, no one has yet figured out a better way to deliver goods and services to the consumer so cheaply and efficiently, create wealth and jobs, innovate in cutting edge industries like energy, pharma, and bio-tech, while proving itself over time as the most spectacular engine for liberty and the fairest system in the history of industrialized civilization for distributing the economy’s bounty.

No, it is not perfect. Far from it. But this hybrid beast that is emerging as a result of such massive government intervention in the economy is an unknown animal. And if this is to be the end of the “American System” don’t you think we should like, you know, have a debate about it or something? Right now, the new Obama Administration is riding the crest of a wave of panic that gripped this country in late summer and early autumn. And the idea of making nation-changing decisions because Wall Street has been spooked or people are anxious about the future without the benefit of a full fledged debate is even scarier than anything the economy could ever elicit from me.

And now, at the exact moment that this country needs a strong, united Republican party who could come up with free market alternatives to this giveaway society being created by the Democrats and stand up for what they know is right, the GOP is busted, broken, toothless, and out of ideas.

It is not simply going to be good enough to scream “NO” into this hurricane wind of “hope and change.” The GOP must vigorously make the case that the need for this bailout has not been thoroughly examined or thought through adequately. They have a responsibility to try and apply the brakes to this juggernaut that has swept the country over the last few months as politicians have responded to panic by panicking themselves. Most importantly, they must do what minority parties are supposed to do; offer sound, reasonable, achievable ideas to counter what is coming from the majority.

This will not happen to the leaderless, dispirited crew of Republicans on Capitol Hill. In this respect, it won’t matter politically whether they vote for the bailout or not. They have already proven themselves to be emasculated by the voter and their own timidity and cowardice when it comes to standing up for their core principles.

By: Rick Moran at 10:16 am
28 Responses to “THE GOP BAILOUT CONUNDRUM”
  1. 1
    C. Rich Said:
    10:34 am 

    I just found this site. I like it.

  2. 2
    SeniorD Said:
    10:34 am 

    I learned a valuable lesson more years ago than I care to admit:

    When in a position of responsibility, NEVER pass the buck. Admit your mistakes, take the consequences and fix the mess YOU caused.

    An honorable politician (almost an oxymoron) would admit to him/herself that previous Federal Legislation caused the credit crunch which put the economy at the event horizon of a black hole. An honorable politician would admit the mistakes made by themselves and their colleagues and work to correct the underlying problems. An honorable politician would buck the leadership and tell the people who elected them they were wrong.

    Too bad we don’t have any honorable politicians.

  3. 3
    Belad Said:
    11:32 am 

    Rick,

    I think that if the government wants to stimulate the economy and pass out stimulus and bailout money, it should just send a check to every taxpaying household for $1,000,000 for each taxpayer filing a 2007 tax return. At most it would $350,000,000 and it would jump-start the economy in several ares. People would pay off debt, buy new toys(cars, boats, snow mobiles,…) and ease the burden of unemployment. We, the taxpayers are in a much better position to determine how OUR MONEY should be spent.

    Where am I going wrong here?

  4. 4
    Davebo Said:
    11:37 am 

    Is the credit market really that “tight” right now?

    Not that I can see. Want to refinance your home right now? You certainly can and at extremely attractive rates. The same goes for home equity loans if you still have any equity. Getting a car loan is still relatively easy with a decent credit score.

    Certainly if you are a lousy credit risk you will have problems. But isn’t that as it should be and didn’t the fact that it wasn’t a big part of the mess we’ve collectively created?

    From what I understand, how tight the credit market depends on the region you live in. Here in IL, car dealerships are begging for a bailout because they can’t finance their sales. Credit cards are raising rates and cutting limits. It is quite bad here. And you are correct that this is the way it should be - except that riskier loans in a good economy are easier to get and the customer will pay a significant premium for access to that credit.

    ed.

  5. 5
    lionheart Said:
    12:15 pm 

    I can’t pretend to know very much about fixing the economy, but I do know that, based on real world experience, bailing out failed business plans will only postpone the inevitable, meanwhile wasting billions of dollars.

    One other thing- I find it hard to believe that I missed Gingrich saying what Silver implies he said. I’m pretty sure Gingrich is opposed to the bailout.

  6. 6
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    12:22 pm 

    Belad

    Where am I going wrong here?

    You’re going wrong in the “paying off debt” part. The entire financial system is specifically designed to keep consumers in debt and making minimum payments as long as possible.

  7. 7
    Anna D Said:
    12:25 pm 

    How about all the Republicans just vote “Present?”

  8. 8
    jackson1234 Said:
    12:29 pm 

    I have to disagree. It is the Democrats who have played with fire here. If this stimulus doesn’t produce much, and my guess is it won’t, it will be hung squarely around their necks. McConnell has acted brilliantly.

    Yeah - but is that really the only strategy the GOP has? Hope for failure?

    Got to be something better.

    ed.

  9. 9
    michael reynolds Said:
    12:29 pm 

    Yep, it’s a bind all right. It’s what happens when a political party manages to dig a really deep hole. And then just keeps on digging.

    There is no winning move right now. Which is why I’ve been baffled by the GOP’s attempts to work the Blagojevich story. Like that was going to help their situation.

    Voters won’t return to the GOP until the economy gets better. The GOP is the party of laissez faire. As long as people are scared they won’t want laissez faire, they’ll want a government life preserver. The GOP actually needs Obama to succeed. If Obama succeeds the GOP will come back sooner than if he fails. People are going to need to have jobs before they’ll be excited by tax cuts.

    But I have a prediction: the GOP won’t wait for the right moment. They’ll do the stupid thing and go with Huckabee and Palin. We’ll get more “Magic Negro” and a whole lot of Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan. The GOP will play to its “base” which will soon not even include people like you, Rick. The GOP is on a path to become a regional party of rural sensibilities.

  10. 10
    grognard Said:
    12:43 pm 

    When the Republican party came to power eight years ago they immediately did away with pay as you go and began deficit spending. So this now this is the party that will lead us to salvation with fiscal responsibility by practicing their “core values”? Hilarious, that would mean that the Republicans would only have to hold to their beliefs when they are in the minority, still doesn’t solve the problem of who to vote for if you want real fiscal responsibility.

  11. 11
    A.D. Said:
    2:05 pm 

    Hmm… not sure I agree that spending in any amount is a good idea. How about cutting taxes for everyone by 15% and instituting a spending freeze?

  12. 12
    Merit Man Said:
    2:44 pm 

    I’ll add that I (as a leader in my local GOP) criticized our local Republican Congressman for voting for the financial bailout and ended up almost losing my somewhat political day job as a result. It seems that my criticism was so unappreciated that the Congressman saw it necessary to tell my employer (a non-profit that maxes out contributions to his every year) that they will no longer have his attention with their issues if I remain a part of the organization.

    The Republican Party is lost at sea and no incident better illustrated this fact better than the passing of the bailout with a good many Republican votes.

  13. 13
    jackson1234 Said:
    2:50 pm 

    Yeah – but is that really the only strategy the GOP has? Hope for failure?

    Got to be something better.

    Not at all. The point was that this is very bad legislation, failure is likely–which is precisely the point, and it should have been opposed. This isn’t a matter of hoping for failure. Unless we are to become a party of McCains and other squishes, we need to do the right thing. Hell, sometimes it works.

  14. 14
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    2:58 pm 

    So the smart political move would be to go with the flow and vote for Obama’s giveaway,

    Meh. The three trillion dollar money pit of Iraq is far more of a so-called giveaway than national infrastructure projects. At least at the end we’ll have some bridges and roads and schools and such that are actually IN OUR OWN COUNTRY, minus all the limbless friends who need government care for the rest of their lives. Giveaway is such a Frank Luntz word Rick.

    They have already proven themselves to be emasculated by the voter and their own timidity and cowardice when it comes to standing up for their core principles.

    Core principals?

    You know chuck, you are a real asshole. What you don’t know about conservatism - its history, its core principles, its role in the formation of modern society - would fill a building the size of the Superdome. In other words, keep your biased, ignorant, comments about what you haven’t a clue to yourself.

    ed.

  15. 15
    gregdn Said:
    3:25 pm 

    Those Republicans who voted for the first bailout blew their credibility when it comes to opposing any further bailouts or stimulus packages.

  16. 16
    Aaron Said:
    3:32 pm 

    Belad: Where am I going wrong here?

    It looks like you’re assuming that there are only 350 taxpaying households in the US. I believe the actual number is a bit higher than that.

  17. 17
    Vincent Said:
    4:45 pm 

    “$1,000,000 for each taxpayer filing a 2007 tax return. At most it would $350,000,000″

    “Where am I going wrong here?”

    More than 350 taxpayers filed 2007 tax returns.

  18. 18
    Belad Said:
    5:01 pm 

    Chuck,

    If they don’t pay off debt they will use it to buy more toys and gadgets. Thus the demand for these will drive businesses to produce more. The problem we have is the lack of money flowing in the economy. Government created jobs can’t create lasting prosperity because the government can’t continue to create jobs indefinitely. The private sector is where the lasting jobs are created and prosperity is created.

    The republicans have a bed of their own making and they are going to have to demonstrate that they understand that they screwed up big time. They also have to demonstrate they have the will to fix the mistakes. At this point in time they have no easy out, they will be in the wilderness for awhile and they need to get a message that rings better with the American public, although the American public is not in a mode to listen right now. There is a mood in the country that wants the consequences for bad judgment and choices to be shouldered by the collective society, than where it squarely belongs. WS should have never been bailed out, where was the outrage when they were reporting multi-billion dollar profits each quarter? Sorry, I just can’t get too excited because those that were supposed to be watching were, in fact, part of the problem and the problem still exists and will continue to exist until the whole house of cards comes down. That unfortunately will require a complete purge of everyone inside the beltway.

  19. 19
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    5:54 pm 

    You know chuck, you are a real asshole. What you don’t know about conservatism – its history, its core principles, its role in the formation of modern society – would fill a building the size of the Superdome. In other words, keep your biased, ignorant, comments about what you haven’t a clue to yourself.

    Hey, I’d love to see a demonstration of these so-called principals. Unfortunately, the majority of your party hasn’t a clue as to what they actually are.

    If they did, your guys probably wouldn’t have given away (sans strings or accountability) as much as they already have. Sounds like Obama’s just following your lead.

  20. 20
    John Howard Said:
    6:40 pm 

    The GOP must vigorously make the case that the need for this bailout has not been thoroughly examined or thought through adequately

    This is the winning approach. Remind the public we still have Medicare and Social Security problems arising soon. Remind them the long-term result of printing money is harm to their children. Urge the public not to let Obama and the Democrats kick this problem down the road. The public is ready for some straight talk.

  21. 21
    obamathered Said:
    6:41 pm 

    The American public has the attention span of a gnat and the patience of a cobra. Exhibit A is the Iraq War. Hence I disagree with you, Rick. If past is prologue, this boondoggle will not result in much stimulus at all. If that proves out, as it likely will, today’s Senate Republicans will watch their numbers grow and Obama could be in a similar situation as Clinton was in his third year.

    This is the Democrats’ baby. There will be no way around it.

  22. 22
    Neo Said:
    9:00 pm 

    Given that there seems to be marginal if any real oversight of the $350 billion Congress has already approved for TARP, there is already a growing ground swell of disapproval forming for any new efforts.

    The key for Republican Congressional leaders (and the rank-n-file) will be to cast these efforts as a waste of taxpayers money.

  23. 23
    michael reynolds Said:
    12:13 am 

    Off-topic, but I am so jealous of you guys in Illinois. We have Schwarzenegger but your governor is still more entertaining. He race-hustled the Senate appointment. Now, that’s entertainment.

  24. 24
    funny man Said:
    12:52 am 

    As a conservative I’m naturally against such a massive government take over/bail-out/what have you. However, I’d like to point out that nobody of today’s economists be they conservatives or liberal know what the best medicine is. Most agree that some sort of stimulus is helpful (also conservatives BTW) and they all mean billions and billions. On the other hand, not doing anything could work out and maybe it won’t. I challenge anyone in this forum to come up with a plan to a) keep us competitive in the long run b) help reduce our deficit and c) stimulate the economy.
    Most of you seem only to care about the political fallout, I really don’t. Let’s assume Obama assembled a dream team regarding economists and he can pull it off thereby “proving” my economic understanding wrong. Would I have a case of wounded pride? Yes!!, but in the overall picture that hardly matters. I hope it is still country first. Now I want to emphasize that I don’t think Obama’s plan (and many Republicans) will work. However, nobody here on this forum really knows what just happened with our economy (or did anyone of you lost any sleep over mortgage backed securities just three month ago) nor knows how to fix it. Or do we have the conservative Paul Krugman in our midst?

  25. 25
    bs jones Said:
    1:24 am 

    When in a position of responsibility, NEVER pass the buck. Admit your mistakes, take the consequences and fix the mess YOU caused.

    Right on SeniorD

  26. 26
    jharp Said:
    2:11 am 

    Just read your article on the Blago appointment posted at pajamas media.

    What a bunch of nonsense. You have got to be kidding. Utterly ridiculous.

    How very coherent of you. Just a thought…what the hell are you talking about?

    ed.

  27. 27
    Belad Said:
    11:14 am 

    Aaron Said:
    3:32 pm

    Belad: Where am I going wrong here?

    It looks like you’re assuming that there are only 350 taxpaying households in the US. I believe the actual number is a bit higher than that.

    You are correct. My math doesn’t quite cut it. I guess it won’t work either. Oh, well.

  28. 28
    Aaron Said:
    2:50 pm 

    Belad - mathematical issues aside, I think the larger problem is that most people, myself included, have trouble comprehending the absurdly large dollar amounts involved in federal programs. I wish it were more common to present them in something like the number of days/months/years that the average person will have to work to pay for a particular program. That I can understand.

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