How to turn a severe recession into a depression

Freeze federal spending in response to a huge spike in unemployment.

No, seriously, House Republican leader John Boehner is now proposing a federal spending freeze. Like Josh Marshall says,

I’m not even sure it’s fair to say that this is a replay of the disastrous decisions the magnified the Great Depression between 1929 and 1933. It’s more a parody of it. When the crisis is a rapid and catastrophic drop off in demand, you handcuff the one force that can create demand (i.e., the federal government) in the throes of the contraction. That’s insane. Levels of stimulus are a decent question. Intensifying the contraction is just insane and frankly a joke.

Paul Rosenberg has some good comments and a Rachel Maddow clip on this topic.

Republicans have long advocated dumb ideas on economic policy, like Congressman Steve King’s proposal to boost investment by eliminating capital gains taxes. To state the obvious, investors are not staying away from stocks because they’re worried about paying taxes on huge capital gains. On the contrary, investors fear that they will lose money because the market has not hit bottom yet and the recession will bring down more companies.

Similarly, fear of taxes on corporate profits has little to do with why businesses are not investing in production now. Business owners are not worried about finding money to pay taxes on profits. They are worried about losing money because skyrocketing unemployment reduces consumer demand for the goods or services that businesses sell.

In fairness, if we followed bad Republican advice on cutting corporate and capital gains taxes, we’d only be giving wealthy Americans tax breaks with a very small economic stimulus “bang for the buck” (see this data compiled by the chief economist for Moody’s). If we followed Boehner’s “new and improved” Republican advice to freeze federal spending, we would send the economy into a meltdown.

I have to wonder whether Republicans even believe in their own talking points. A spending freeze, really? That’s not what George W. Bush and the Republican majority in Congress did during the previous recession.

I think they may be beating the drum on spending to scare some Democrats out of supporting Obama’s budget proposal. What worries me is the scenario outlined by Open Left user Master Jack:

1. Obama submits a budget with the spending necessary to avoid a depression.

  2. Blue Dogs bitch and bleat and whine.

  3. Obama caves to the blue dogs and waters down his budget.

  4. Depression ensues.

  5. Democrats get clobbered in 2010.

  6. Liberals get blamed.

  This is what the Republicans are trying to make happen. And it wouldn’t stand a prayer of working of not for their blue dog enablers.

Democrats from President Obama on down need to push back hard against the Republicans’ idiotic new line.  

  • Spending Freeze is Good Idea

    Why are you saying that a spending freeze is a bad idea?

    Its the best possible idea.  We are spending our country so far into debt.

    • spoken like a true Republican

      Sure, when unemployment is a 25-year highs and consumer spending is drastically down, the "best possible idea" is for the government to freeze spending.

      Even Martin Feldstein, a big conservative economist, says the stimulus was too small and we probably will need another one soon.

      Deficit spending in a recession makes economic sense. The good years are the years to save and pay down debt—like the Clinton administration did. Unfortunately, the Bush administration allowed the deficit to explode even in years when the economy was growing. If Al Gore had become president, we wouldn’t have the enormous debt we have now.

  • Honk if you paid a capital gains tax.

    Where do we find these clueless legislators.

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