The GOP’s Love-Hate Relationship With Stimulus

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Ezra Klein rounds up a series of quotes from 2001 showing that Republicans loved the idea of fiscal stimulus back when a fellow Republican was wrestling with a recession. But now they hate the idea:

So what happened?

Some say the explanation for all this is obvious: Republicans want the economy to fail because that is how they will defeat President Obama. After all, didn’t Sen. Mitch McConnell say, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president”? How much clearer can it be?

I don’t believe this sort of behavior is quite that cynical.

Well, I think it’s exactly that cynical. But not because Republicans want the economy to fail. Self-interest probably motivates them to believe they’re doing the right thing when they oppose measures that might help the economy and therefore help President Obama’s reelection, but that’s about it. They don’t literally want the economy to tank.

But the obvious thing Ezra doesn’t mention is that all of those 2001 mash notes to stimulus were based on the prospect of getting an even bigger tax cut for the wealthy than they had counted on. Republicans don’t really care about stimulus one way or the other. They care about upper-income tax cuts, and back in 2001, portraying them as a stimulus measure was a handy way of getting them passed. If Obama were to offer up the same deal — big, permanent cuts in the top marginal rates — they’d be happy to become Keynesians for a day if that was the price of admission.

Cynical? Sure. But this is all pretty much common knowledge. Republicans like tax cuts for the rich, and they’ll adopt whatever argument comes to hand to get them. If we’re in a recession, tax cuts are a short-term stimulus measure. If the economy is doing well, tax cuts are a long-term productivity enhancement. If estate taxes are at issue, they’re trying to save family farms. If it’s capital gains, cuts are a vital tool for energizing our manufacturing base. Any port in a storm.

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