Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives went to the White House on Thursday to meet with President Obama. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri emerged from the meeting in a ponderous mood. "Where is the President's leadership on reining in our out-of-control debt and helping Americans get back to work?" she asked in a statement issued after the fact.
There's a lot going in that sentence, much of it stupid. Let's break it down.
First, let's address the notion of the nation's "out-of-control" debt. It's true. The U.S. government has borrowed a lot of money. Of course, a portion of the debt was taken out precisely because people are having a hard time finding work. Unemployment reached a 14-year high the month before Obama was elected.
Obama and his advisers came up with a plan to stimulate the economy with government spending and tax cuts. The money wasn't lying around, so it needed to be borrowed. Was the stimulus plan worth it? Most economists think so.
Now, reasonable people can disagree about the exact shape that the stimulus took. Some say it should have been larger. Maybe a payroll-tax cut should have been the featured element. At any rate, it was at least an effort to stimulate employment.
Hartzler's dishonesty stems from the fact that she makes deficit reduction and the jobs crisis sound like twinned character flaws that the White House refuses to address. Her statement this morning reads like the complaint of a spouse married to someone who gambles and sleeps around on business trips.
Keep in mind, Hartzler is not elucidating a meaningful policy position. The rest of her statement is boilerplate stuff about leadership and "spending money we don't have," something that Republicans had no problem doing when they voted for the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It may be possible to create employment and reduce the deficit at the same time. Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein proposed an idea last month:
Imagine if Republicans offered Democrats a 4:1:1 deal: For every $4 of specific spending cuts over the next 12 years, they'd back $1 of tax increases and $1 of stimulus. A deficit-reduction deal that cut $3 trillion would carry $1 trillion in tax increases -- so, $4 trillion in total deficit reduction -- and $1 trillion in stimulus. Who's the liberal who'd say no? And yet, that's a big deficit reduction package. Among the biggest in our history, actually.But as Klein points out, this deal is off the table because the thing Republicans seem to care the most about is not the deficit or jobs but making sure that taxes never go up.